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Judges disagree with prison courts

Judge says that plans to hold court hearings at the Vestre Fængsel prison are a threat to the reputation of independent courts.

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The Judges Association of Denmark says that the government’s plans to conduct court proceedings at the Vestre Fængsel prison in Copenhagen gives the wrong signal; that the courts are the extended arm of the prison service.

“A courtroom as an appendix to Vestre Fængsel prison sends an unfortunate signal,” says association chairman, High Court Judge Mikael Sjöberg.

“It is vital that the courts appear independent, dignified and neutral in order to maintain public confidence,” he says, adding that in building courtrooms around the country, it has been important for the courts to distance themselves from authorities such as the police and prosecution.

The idea of holding court hearings in prison was launched by the prime minister during Saturday’s Social Democratic congress. Justice Minister Morten Bødskov issued a news release on the subject on Monday.

“We have had hearings in connection with people from the biker and gang environment in which we have seen threatening behaviour, and attempts to free them have resulted in hazardous situations,” Bødskov says.

But Sjöberg says that police already place a heavy guard on cases deemed risky.

He believes that the reason for the government’s proposal is a wish to save money on police guard duties and transporting suspects through Copenhagen.

At the same time, Sjöberg says he is puzzled as to why the justice minister has refrained from seeking the views of the country’s judges.

In the future, according to the Bill, remand hearings are to be heard in the new high security courtroom – even though there is no particular danger.

Both the Frederiksberg and Copenhagen municipal courts will be holding preliminary and remand hearings in the new building at Vestre Fængsel prison.

The reason, according to the notes to the Bill, is to ensure “the appropriate and effective use of resources”.

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