Iceland Crowd-Sources Constitutional Reform

There are 320,000 inhabitants of Iceland, a country about twice the size of Nova Scotia. But small in size doesn’t mean small in thought. They’re in the process of revising their constitution at the moment, and one feature of the process is the invitation to the public to comment on committee drafts as they’re presented online. To get the widest possible involvement, they’ve established a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the purpose, as well as the basic web page.

As the official page states:

The Constitutional Council is eager to make sure the public can be up to date while the work is in progress. It’s possible to see the developments in the text of a prospective proposition and make comments. Furthermore, the Constitutional Council has made it possible for the public to send messages and already numerous messages have been sent to the Council. All messages are published on the Council’s website under the sender’s name (anonymous messages are not accepted) and the public can read and comment on each of them which has already created a lively discussion on the website.

In this way the Constitutional Council emphasises an open communication with the Icelandic nation and has given the people an opportunity to participate in the formation of a new Constitution of the Republic of Iceland. The Council’s work can also be seen on the major communicative media such as Facebook, Youtube and Flickr. Every day short interviews with delegates are put on Youtube and Facebook. On Thursdays at 13:00 there is live broadcast from the Constitutional Council meetings on the webpage and on Facebook. There are also schedules for all meetings, all minutes from meetings of groups, the Board and the Council as well as the Council’s work procedures. The webpage also has regular news from the Council’s work as well as a weekly newsletter. Advertisements are published in the media encouraging the public to keep track of what is going on and to make comments.

Some of the work of the Constitutional Council is translated into English, but it’s possible to follow along even the web pages in Icelandic, thanks to Google Translate. Thus, the current version is available, as is a page showing all of the versions through time. [Note, by the way, the ability to link directly to a Google translated page.]

We might all benefit from reading the draft — the section on Human Rights, certainly — to remind ourselves of what is currently important enough in Western societies to require explicit (albeit machine-translated) statement in a charter such as this. Section 1 requires, for example, that the “complexity of human life must be respected at all times,” which is a constitutional thought, if you will, that I’d not had before. More familiar are the bases for prohibited discrimination:

sex, age, genotype, residency, property, disability, sexual orientation, color, belief, political association, religious or social origin, birth or other status

“Genotype” is somewhat surprising, perhaps until one remembers that this is a country that embarked on a thorough study of its inhabitants’ genome. And I’m glad to see that, in translation at least, the discredited term “race” isn’t used, but colour and religious or social origin instead. As well, given Iceland’s role in the recent kerfuffle over Wikileaks and other FOI projects, it’s interesting to read sections 7 on Freedom of Information and 8 on Freedom of the Press.


  1. An interesting development, on a related note is what’s been going on in Morocco. Constitutional reform was announced in March, but things really got interesting when the people stepped up to share their views in a very unique and Web2.0 way.

    Enter people like Tarik Nesh-nash and the project where almost 500K votes and over a thousand proposals were offered in a multi-lingual clause-by-clause review of the proposed constitution. Tarik presented on this and other Moroccan access to law issues at last week’s Law via the Internet in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, his presentation is not available on the conference site, but many other fascinating presentations remain linked and available via the conference program.

  2. Yes Simon, but remember that the Alþing is the world’s oldest parliament and that the Lögsögumaður (better to translate it as law-sayer, than simply Speaker) was the direct manifestation of the communitarian traditions of the extraordinary Icelandic methods of law-making. The Constitutional Reform website is splendidly multiplatform, and will necessarily be much broader than the current constitution, which was quickly made in 1944.

    Here is the whole history.

    Many of the blog commentaries assume that this is simply a product of the recent meltdown – but it’s got deep roots.

    From Þingvellir

    to the current Althing