Since the adoption of the Danish constitution in 1849, the decision-making power in Denmark has been divided into the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The principle of a three-way separation of power and the independence of the courts of law help ensure democracy and the legal rights of the country’s citizens.

The Danish parliament (the Folketing) has the power to legislate: it enacts laws and lays down minimum and maximum penalties for violating the law. The Government has the executive power and ensures that the law is enforced in cooperation with the public administration. The courts of law are the judicial branch and have the power to determine how the law should be interpreted in individual cases.

Within the framework of the law

All rise when the judge reads out the verdict in court.

The independence of the courts of law means that the judges may not allow themselves to be influenced by political or other irrelevant interests when passing judgment. They are to follow the law exclusively and adjudicate within the framework of the law. If the Government and Folketing want to make sentencing stricter or more lenient, it requires a change of law. Not until then do judges change their legal practice, i.e. the way in which they adjudicate individual cases.

To ensure the independence of the courts, the constitution protects judges from being fired or transferred to a different job. This serves to prevent the Folketing or the Government from dictating or influencing the decisions made by a judge.

One of the tasks of the courts is to ensure that the other two branches of government obey the law. The courts must ensure that the legislation enacted by the Folketing is in accordance with the constitution and the international law that Denmark has undertaken to observe. The courts may thus declare a statute enacted by the Folketing invalid if it is contrary to the constitution or any EU legislation. The courts may also conclude that a decision made by a public authority, e.g. a ministry, is invalid.

The Roman goddess Justitia is often used as a symbol of justice.

Due process of law and equality before the law

Due process of law concerns the personal and political rights you have as a citizen. These rights are described in the law, and the responsibility of the courts is to protect each citizen against any abuse of power on the part of the authorities. If you believe that an authority has acted contrary to the law, you can bring the matter before a court of law, which will then make a decision in the matter.

Due process of law also implies that there is equality before the law for everyone. This means that how you are treated by the authorities or judged in a court of law is not arbitrary. Cases that are alike must be processed and decided in the same way.

A judge will always take legal practice into account, i.e. how similar cases have been adjudicated in the past, before passing judgment.

The law also contains rules on how the courts of law should deal with different types of cases and rules on how citizens can complain about a decision and appeal their case to a higher instance if they believe that the court has made the wrong decision.


In Denmark, the independence of the courts of law has increased over time. The most recent change was made on 1 July 1999, when the Act on the Judicial Appointments Council took effect. At the same time, the Danish Court Administration became an independent agency under the Courts of Denmark. The Administration forms part of the justice system of the Ministry of Justice, but it has its own managing director and executive committee that take decisions independently of the Government and Folketing.

This page forms part of the publication "A CLOSER LOOK AT THE COURTS OF DENMARK" as chapter 2 of 10.
Version no. 1.0, 2015-11-18

© The Courts of Denmark 2015.

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