Faculty of Law
Ragnhildur Helgadóttir new honorary doctor

Icelandic law: Between sovereignty and the EU

Professor Ragnhildur Helgadóttir has pushed the boundaries of traditional legal research. For her outstanding academic work, she has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bergen (UiB).

Bilde av Raghildur
– Being a professor is a fantastic job. You pick the topics that interest you and get to concentrate on those. In addition you get to work with students who are truly interested in the subject but also bring fresh eyes to it, Ragnhildur Helgadóttir says.

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– I enjoy thinking about law as part of society, Professor Ragnhildur Helgadóttir says.

As one of the Island’s most outstanding academics, she gets to execute it all: Curiosity, a love for teaching, theory, discussions and writing. For new understanding and the idea of making a difference for people and society as a whole.

–  I like to consider the differences and intersections between written law, law as practised and culture, she says.

For her outstanding legal research, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Bergen.

Law, culture and the grey zone

Within the field of comparative constitutional law, she has distinguished herself as an innovative researcher pushing the boundaries of traditional legal research. Her new research revolves around issues such as religious freedom, protection of human dignity, the concept of sovereignty in Icelandic discourse and the EEA agreement's impact on Icelandic laws.

–  I like to consider the differences and intersections between written law, law as practised and culture

– I like to consider the differences and intersections between written law, law as practised and culture. This is especially relevant in constitutional law because in that field, law is sometimes completely redundant, since political realities pre-empt going anywhere close to a legal grey zone. Sometimes law in effect loses its power as political realities are so decisive that law has very little role. To me, these different frames around our behaviour raise all sorts of fascinating issues, Ragnhildur Helgadóttir says.

Often, these perspectives brings her to writing a history of ideas or of an idea, such as her 2018 book chapter on the emergence of the idea of sovereignty in Icelandic political and legal discourse.

– But those perspectives can also bring a critical viewpoint to discussions of current law, such as the increasingly problematic relation between EEA law and the Icelandic constitution, she says.

Hide-and-seek in the age of confusion

Ragnhildur Helgadóttir has on two occasions served as a judge in the Supreme Court in Iceland, and she is furthermore an alternate judge in the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, Ragnhildur Helgadóttir has served on the negotiation committee regarding the Icelandic membership application to the EU.

– In your opinion, what are the major challenges for contemporary Icelandic law?

– I think that currently one of the largest challenges for contemporary Icelandic is the way we think about international and foreign sources and the adherence to dualism that is stronger and more categorical now than it was 10 or 30 years ago. This causes confusion, and sometimes even leads to a kind of legal hide-and-seek, she says.