The history of the Courts of Denmark goes back several hundred years, and their duties and role reflect the sociohistorical development of Danish society. This development has gained the judiciary more independence and, by implication, the public due-process protection.
The Danish Constitution of 1849 was a giant step towards achieving an independent judiciary, because the Danish Constitution includes provisions to ensure the judiciary's organisational, functional and personal independence. In fact, section 3 of the Danish Constitution establishes the separation of powers, as designed by the French philosopher Montesquieu in his work De l'esprit des lois from 1748, i.e. the vesting of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government in separate bodies.
Since the enactment of the Danish Constitution in 1849, the judiciary has gradually assumed the responsibilities of the overall and regulatory authority of the Danish Parliament (the legislature) and the King (in practice: the government, the executive). Today the judiciary considers itself, on request, entitled to declare an act unconstitutional or overrule decisions made by government services.
Concurrently, the European Convention on Human Rights and other international conventions have given the judiciary ample room for interpretation, thereby allowing the judiciary to influence the development of the law in a way and to a degree that were unknown just a few decades ago.
The extensive powers of today's judiciary require exacting standards of independence and due process. These standards are inter alia provided by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, according to which everyone has a right to a fair and public trial, within a reasonable time, by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
In 1999, further measures were taken to ensure the organisational independence of the judiciary, i.e. the formation of the Danish Court Administration and the Danish Judicial Appointments Council.
Prior to this, there had been a long political debate on the best possible way of ensuring judicial independence of the Danish government and parliament. More specifically, it was debated whether it was appropriate for the Ministry of Justice to administer the courts and appoint judges. The debate led to the appointment of a court committee. The committee's report formed the basis of the court reform in 1999.
After a long debate in the Danish parliament and the printed press, a unanimous Danish Parliament resolved that the courts were no longer to be administered by the Ministry of Justice. Although there was no proof that the then-current system had an adverse effect on judicial independence, the Danish parliament did not want to leave room for even a theoretical possibility that such independence was not beyond question. There were to be no more ties between the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice. The Danish Court Administration and the Danish Judicial Appointments Council were established on 1 July 1999.
The formation of the Danish Court Administration was aimed at strengthening the autonomy and independence of the judiciary and demonstrating its position as the third power of government.
The formation of the Danish Judicial Appointments Council was aimed at making judicial appointments more transparent, indicating judicial independence and increasing the prospects of broader recruitment.
On formation of the Danish Court Administration and the Danish Judicial Appointments Council, the organisation that we now call the Courts of Denmark was established. This organisation is composed of the courts, the Appeals Permission Board, the Danish Judicial Appointments Council and the Danish Court Administration. The organisation has separate appropriations in the Budget. The board of the Danish Court Administration shall – within the given appropriations – ensure that the courts are run and developed adequately and properly.
Reform of the Courts of Denmark
From January 1 2007 the number of district courts in Denmark was dramatically reduced from 82 to 24. At the same time the procedural rules were changed in order to ensure more strict and at the same time flexible rules of procedure in the preparatory phase of the court proceedings. The changes of the procedural rules also mean that alle cases with only af few exemptions - in future must be tried in the first instance by the district courts.
Thus, the reform entailed at number of changes:
The number of district courts was reduced from 82 to 24
Virtually all cases are tried by distric courts (first tier)
Civil cases in district courts may be tried by at panel of judges or by a judge assisted by experts
The Supreme Court will only review cases of principle
Before the reform many of the district courts had only one judge and some district courts had only 10 employees. This made many of the district courts very vulnerable to illness and other kinds of absence.
The new district courts have at least five judges, one president (except the island of Bornholm with only one judge) and around 50 employees. The president of the court must be qualified as a judge, but as part of the reform candidates for a court presidency are also tested regarding their management skills.
The objectives of the reform are
- Shorter case processing time
- Less vurnarable and more efficient courts
- More emphasis on leadership and management of courts, and
- More uniform application of law by improved possibilities of knowledge sharing and specialization