lögrétta (ON) noun

This institution was peculiar to Norw and Ice law. The word is derived from the expression rétta lög, i.e. to provide a valid explanation and interpretation of what the law says about a given case (see Hertzberg, s.v. lögrétta; KLNM, s.v. lagting). In Iceland, this expression had a wider meaning (see below).

In Norway the lögrétta was a panel or tribunal under the provincial assembly (the lagþing, see laghþing). Originally it seems to have consisted of 36 men, authorized together with the law-speaker to explain the law, pass judgements or sentences, or give verdicts. To be legally binding, the decisions of the lögrétta had to be approved by the assembly.

The size of the lögrétta is a moot question in Norw legal history. An older group of scholars thought that the lögrétta was composed of three tribunals only, each consisting of twelve men. Later scholars tend to believe that it was constituted by the whole body of delegates to the provincial assembly, which in the Frostuþing consisted of four hundred men.

Whether large or small, its function as a judicial power and ultimate court of law seems certain as far as the provincial laws are concerned, until the introduction of King Magnus the Law-Mender’s Law of the Realm (the ‘ML landslov’) 1274 (see Strauch 2016, 115, 153, 168).

In Iceland the lögrétta (the Law Council) was originally a body under the alþingi. The expression rétta lög was here also taken to mean ‘formulating or passing laws’ (see KLNM, s.v. lögrétta). In the period 930–ca. 965 it seems to have been composed of the law-speaker and 36 goðar (see goði), each accompanied by two ordinary members of the alþingi ‘General Assembly’. Around 965 additional members were appointed, and from 1106 onwards, Iceland’s two bishops joined the lögrétta. The total number of members then amounted to 147 persons. As already indicated, the Icel lögrétta mainly functioned as a legislature, it decided what was law or should be law (see KLNM, s.v. rettergang (vol. XXI, col. 299)). It also elected the law-speaker, it granted licences and exemptions from the law, and it had the right to pardon. In other words, it was in some ways an administrative body (see Laws of Early Iceland, Grágás I, 249; RGA 2, s.v. lögrétta; Strauch 2016, 40, 218).

With Iceland’s submission to Norway in 1262/64, the lögrétta was remodelled on the pattern of Norw law. Járnsíða (1271) and Jónsbók (1281) transformed it into a higher court of law, consisting of 36 men, 3 from each of the 12 new administrative districts (sýslur, see sysel), plus two Icelandic bishops. It was from now on a superior court and a court of appeal (see KLNM, s.v. lögrétta; Strauch 2016, 238).

Law Council OIce Grg Klþ 4 Þsþ 43 Feþ 144, 147 Lbþ 184 Fjl 225 Hrs 235 Tíg 268
OIce Þfb 3 Llb 64 Þjb 13
OIce Js Þfb 3, 5
ONorw FrL Var 46 Rgb 30

ultimate court of law ONorw GuL Olb Refs:

Gunnar Karlsson 2005, 504; Hagland and Sandnes 1994, xxvii−xxviii; Helgi Þorláksson 2005, 142, 151; Helle 2001; Hertzberg s.v. lögrétta; KLNM s.v.v. alþing, lagting, lögrétta, rettergang, ting; Laws of Early Iceland, Grágás I; Sandvik and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson 2005, 236−37; Strauch 2016, 40−41, 119, 153, 158, 218−20, 223, 234, 236, 238, 240, 242, 246; Sveaas Andersen 1977, 259−60

  • ‘lögrétta’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.

  • http://www.dhi.ac.uk/lmnl/nordicheadword/displayPage/3320