Judges say no to prison courthouse

Justice Ministry’s plan to build secure court inside Vestre Fængsel meets resistance from judges who say the two institutions should be kept apart

Establishing a courthouse on the premises of Denmark’s largest prison, Vestre Fængsel in Copenhagen, will make it safer to carry out trials against gang members, but the national judges' association, Den Danske Dommerforening (DDD), fears that it will blur the lines between police and the legal system.


DDD spokesperson Mikael Sjöberg said that the proposal is a threat to the court’s reputation as an independent and unbiased institution.

“To build a courthouse as an ‘appendix’ to Vestre Fængsel sends the wrong signal,” Sjöberg told Politiken newspaper.  “People will only trust the courts if they appear independent, respectable and objective.”

He said that the police now turn out in strength and guard courthouses to avoid dangerous situations and that he suspects the real reason behind the proposal is to save money on the expenses the state currently spends on guarding and transporting the accused between court and prison.

Better security during gang trials

The justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), proposed the plan in a press release on Monday as part of government’s aim to ensure better security during trials involving gang members.

READ MORE: Gang members to serve sentences outside Denmark

“The government will not accept that gangs create insecurity in the courtrooms,” Bødskov said. “We have seen dangerous incidents with threats and organised break-out attempts in trials against gang members.”

The proposed court would have direct access from the prison and serve to protect witnesses from attack and also create a more secure setting for trials that historically have proven problematic because of their connection to the gang environment.


For example, in March 2012 police arrested 140 armed gang members outside Glostrup City Court after they attempted to disrupt a gang-related murder trial.