Justice for minors in Denmark: Summary Report

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Age of criminal responsibility: Minors under 15 are considered criminally irresponsible (article 15 of the Penal Code).  The age when you are civically responsible is fixed at 18.

Trials: There is no special youth court, as the Danish Constitution forbids any specialist courts. The magistrates who deal with youth cases are therefore professional magistrates who are not specialised in youth cases, and who may be assisted by non-professional judges.  
The Administration of Justice Act establishes the rules for trials, which are applicable to all trials, although minors do benefit from a few additional rights, such as the right to a non-public trial.
A social worker must be present as soon as a minor is taken into custody in order to protect their interests.  When a suspect is under 18, their case will be presented to social services before the court.  Social Service should carry out a social study and develop, with the minor and his/her parents, a strategy which will allow the magistrate to judge the case.

Measures that can be applied to young offendersMeasures that can be applied to young offenders can be divided into three categories, each of which depends on different institutions:
1)      Social services: minors under 15 cannot be prosecuted but can be monitored by social services if they commit an offence.  Their parents will be notified.
Minors between 15 and 18 are often directed to education programmes that Social Services run.  Youths who are 15 can, without needing their parents’ consent, accept Social Services’ propositions which aim to prevent re-offending and help to them through educational or professional training programmes etc.  When the minor agrees to this, prosecution is suspended.  If the minor doesn’t respect the conditions of the agreement, prosecution will resume.
2) Imprisonment: Minors between 15 and 18 cannot be sent to prison except for very serious crimes or repeat offences.  They are rarely sent to prison, more often being sent to one of the four closed youth detention centres in the country.   The Penal Code (articles 84 and 33) fixes the maximum duration in prison for a minor at 8 years.  There are so few minors in prison due to respect for the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights that those minors in prison are in near isolation. 
3)      Hospitalisation: Studies are carried out on whether minors with psychiatric troubles should be hospitalised.

Punishments include:
–         fines
–         probation
–         detention for a set period of time.
If a minor is told to pay a fine, this can be postponed until the minor reaches adulthood.
A frequently used measure in Denmark is probation. The probation period is generally two years. It may also entail an obligation to carry out a certain number of hours of community service.
Community Service is a measure that has been used since 1982 as an alternative to detention.


Points of reference: Danish Criminal Code (CC), Administration of Justice Act (AJA), Social Security Act (SSA), Hospital Law

2007-10-25

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