Constitutional Council

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Counselling the Council

The constitutional council claims to have  consulted a number of experts in coming up with its proposals.  I was curious to find out who these experts were since I had offered the council to help them find experts that might be able to provide useful advice – having spent years studying political institutions I have gotten to know a number of the leading scholars in the field, some of which have been involved in similar efforts at institutional reform and many of which would have been happy to give their advice if approached.  Needlessly to say, the constitutional council didn’t take me up on my offer.  The council’s website lists the experts who have been consulted.  I can’t say that I was surprised.

If I have counted correctly, the council sought the advice of experts a total of 21 times.  In twelve of these cases, the expert was a lawyer (the same lawyer was consulted in four of these cases, another one in three of them).  In seven cases, the expert consulted was a ministry. The secretary of Althingi’s budget committee was consulted once.  And in one case a political scientist was consulted.

So while I don’t know what kind of experts the people preparing the responses for the ministries were or if the council sought the advice of other experts informally, I think it is fairly striking that only in one instance did the council see fit to consult a political scientist.  And even in that instance, the choice of an expert seems a little odd – the council sought comments about the section on parliament and parliamentary procedures and the chosen expert is, primarily, a political historian who, as far as I can tell, hasn’t done any work on parliaments.  That’s not to say that his comments shouldn’t have been sought but it is difficult to see why this expert was chosen over other Icelandic (or foreign) political scientists who have studied parliaments.  But I shouldn’t complain – at least there is one political scientist.

I have complained the about role of lawyers in the process – I won’t repeat my argument here but I think the fact that over half the experts are lawyers  is a cause for worry.  To be clear, I think lawyers should be involved – I just don’t think only lawyers should be involved.  The results aren’t entirely surprising. Looking at the current draft proposal, the branch of government whose powers will be made stronger is the judiciary.  And the vagueness of many sections of the draft (to be fair, it is a draft and hopefully these things will be ironed out) almost seems constructed to guarantee lawyers work for years to come.

At any rate, it is extremely frustrating that the constitutional council almost seems to make a concerted effort to make uninformed decisions.  It might be blamed on ignorance about what political scientists actually do but there are actually, at least, two political scientists on the council – neither would qualify as an expert on most of the institutions being debated – so that doesn’t seem like a plausible excuse (although not impossible).  So why doesn’t the constitutional council seek the advice and input of scholars that have spent years of their lives collecting and analyzing data about how the very institutions being debated actually work?

1 Comment

  1. Indriði Indriðason

    July 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir pointed out that who has responded to the council’s request for comments doesn’t provide the whole story since some requests for comments have been rejected. The numbers above also don’t include information about who the council has met with, etc.

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