Publication of Iceland’s High Court documentation
Last year, the National Archives of Iceland embarked upon the large-scale project of publishing all documentation and judgments of the High Court of Iceland. The High Court was Iceland’s highest court and operated at Þingvellir 1563–1800, i.e. until the Alþingi (Icelandic Parliament) was disbanded in 1800 and the new National High Court was established. The High Court constituted the third judicial level, after the District Commissioner Courts and the Court of Legislature. Judgments of the High Court could be referred to the Supreme Court in Denmark. The oldest surviving documentation from the High Court dates from 1690. One volume of High Court documentation and judgments from 1690–1710 was published in 2011, with funds from the Alþingi. Publication stopped there due to a lack of funds.
On the occasion of the 2020 centenary of the Supreme Court of Iceland, the Alþingi passed a resolution, on 18 November 2019, to continue funding the project and to task the Speaker to work together with the National Archives of Iceland and the Icelandic Historical Society on publication. An agreement covering the next ten years was signed at the National Archives of Iceland on 7 May 2020. This agreement guarantees funding to complete publication. It was signed by CFO Auður Elva Jónsdóttir on behalf of the Alþingi, Department Manager Anna Elínborg Gunnarsdóttir on behalf of the National Archives of Iceland and General Manager of the Icelandic Historical Society Brynhildur Ingvarsdóttir. Also present at the signing were Deputy Secretary-General of the Alþingi Þorsteinn Magnússon, Director of the National Archives Hrefna Róbertsdóttir and historian and co-editor of the publication Jóhanna Þ. Guðmundsdóttir.
Work on publication began as soon as the agreement was signed, as most of the documentation had already been written up. One volume per year is expected to be published from 2021 to 2029. All surviving High Court judgments and case documentation should then have been published. The tenth volume of the series will be dedicated to extraordinary legislatures and will be published by 2030 at the least. Each volume will be approx. 600–700 pages long. Most High Court documentation is kept at the National Archives of Iceland, while other documentation is kept at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and in the manuscript collection of the National and University Library of Iceland. All these documents will be included in the new publication, which will therefore cover all known surviving High Court documentation. The document will be published both in book form and digitally on the National Archives of Iceland website.
The documentation of the High Court is a very important source of information on life and society in Iceland over that period. It throws light not only on the High Court itself and court proceedings in Iceland, but also on the people appearing before the Court and giving accounts of their life and living conditions. The documents feature people from all walks of life: not only miscreants, murderers and thieves, but also poor people, bankrupt farmers who stole for food, young girls with illegitimate children and district commissioners who neglected their official duties, to name but a few. This publication will significantly improve access to these interesting sources.
Jóhanna Þ. Guðmundsdóttir
Project Manager for Documentary Publication at the National Archives of Iceland
and co-editor of the published High Court documentation