Denmark is a constitutional monarchy. It has a unicameral system of parliament and a Queen who performs only formal and ceremonial functions. Queen Margrethe II ascended the throne on 14 January, 1972 after the death of King Frederik IX.
The Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark (Danmarks Riges Grundlov) was adopted on the 5th June 1953 (based on the Constitutional Act of 1849 as subsequently revised). The Constitution has not been changed since 1953, however, changes have been made in the constitutional legal structure by way of legislation and treaties.
The 1953 Constitution applies also to the Faroe Islands and Greenland. On the basis of special legislation these two territories have achieved a relatively high degree of self-government, the so-called home rule government (the Faroe Islands in 1948, Greenland in 1979).
The principle of the independence of local authority is established in the Constitution (Section 82) and regulated by law, and many of the administrative powers are delegated to the 5 regions and the 98 municipalities (“kommuner”) into which Denmark is divided.
The Queen, who is the Head of State, represents Denmark abroad and heads the government, but has no political power. The Danish succession used to go from father to the eldest son, but if the king had no son, the throne would pass to another male heir. This provision was changed by an amendment to the Act of Succession in 1953, as King Frederik IX had no male heir. Queen Margrethe II is the first woman to become Denmark's sovereign by law as the eldest daughter of King Frederik IX.
Executive power is vested in the Government (Section 3 of the Constitution), which consists of all ministers under the leadership of the Prime Minister. The Government is appointed on the basis of a parliamentary decision. In case of disagreement between the parties the Government is appointed during a round of consultations with the monarch followed by a round of negotiations in Parliament (“Folketinget”). A Government, which from the outset receives a vote of no confidence, may not be appointed. The monarch has the prerogative (based on a recommendation from the Prime Minister) to appoint and dismiss ministers (Section 14 of the Constitution) and to decide the delegation and distribution of duties among the ministers. Ministers are held responsible for all actions of the ministries over which they have control. The prerogatives of the Government are guaranteed by the Constitution and cannot be interfered with by Parliament. However, specific acts of Government, (especially those concerning foreign policy) require the consent of Parliament. Parliament can also make demands on the Government or limit its opportunities for action, by way of resolutions. The parliamentary standing committees form part of the control of the executive power. The Parliament has the discretion to examine and criticize Government policy and administration.
Legislative power rests with the Government and the Parliament (“Folketinget”) conjointly (Section 3 of the Constitution). The Parliament consists of 179 members, two of whom are elected in Greenland and two in the Faroe Islands. The remaining 175 members are elected in Denmark. The members of the Folketing are elected for a four-year term. The nominated candidates are elected on the basis of proportional representation, but the candidates run in individual single constituencies.
Legislative initiative belongs to the Government or any Member of Parliament (Section 41 (1) of the Constitution). All laws passed by Parliament must be in conformity with the Constitution. The power to impose taxes and to pass acts on appropriation rests solely with the Parliament, which may exercise this power only within the scope of adopting the annual Financial Act. The Constitution prohibits delegation of power regarding laws on the imposition of taxes. Parliament is responsible to the electorate in all matters.
No bill can be passed before it has gone through three readings in Parliament (Section 41 (2) of the Constitution). During the bill's first reading only the main points of the bill are dealt with. Before its second reading the bill is generally subjected to review by a standing committee which generates a committee report. The report forms the basis of the second reading during which the bill is debated in its entirety and motions as to possible amendments may be submitted. The passing of the bill takes place during the third reading and demands the presence of at least 50 per cent of the members of Parliament (90 members). A bill passed by Parliament can only become law when signed by the Government and the monarch (royal assent) within 30 days. The Government is responsible for the promulgation of the laws and their coming into force.
In order to introduce amendments to the Constitution (Section 88 of the Constitution), all changes must first be voted upon and passed by the Folketing. This approval must be repeated after a general election, subsequent to which, the constitutional proposal will be put to a referendum. If a majority of the persons taking part in the referendum, and at least 40 per cent of the electorate vote in favour of the bill amending the Constitution, and if the bill receives Royal Assent, it will form an integral part of the Constitution.
The courts exercise judicial power (Section 3 of the Constitution). According to Section 62 of the Constitution, the administration of justice is independent of executive power and rules to this effect are laid down in statute. Further, by virtue of Section 63 of the Constitution, courts of justice are entitled to decide on any question bearing upon the scope of authority of executive power.
There are 24 district courts in Denmark, which are courts of first instance and deals with both civil and criminal cases. The two High Courts, the Western High Court (Vestre Landsret) and the Eastern High Court (Østre Landsret), are courts of appeal and in special cases courts of first instance. The highest court is the Supreme Court (Højesteret), which only deals with cases that have already been dealt with by one of the two High Courts or by the Maritime and Commercial Court.
The Judicial Appointments Council submits recommendations to the Minister of Justice for all judicial appointments except the post of President of the Supreme Court. In contrast to other state appointed employees, judges cannot be dismissed on the basis of an administrative decision, but may only be dismissed by way of court judgement.
The Danish Constitution does not permit the establishment of special courts, which would be vested with the right of convicting persons. However, special courts, so-called undersøgelsesretter (investigative courts), can be established. In addition to the ordinary courts there are courts, which have been permanently established to deal with specific jurisdictions, for instance the abovementioned Maritime and Commercial Court.
Denmark does not have a Constitutional Court. Constitutional cases are decided by the court that is otherwise dealing with the case, and in the final instance the case can be decided by the Supreme Court. There is also no separate administrative court or special divisions of the courts. Ordinary courts deal with disputes in administrative law.
However, cases brought by the Queen or the Parliament against ministers shall be determined by the High Court of the Realm (Rigsretten), which consists of up to fifteen senior ordinary members of the highest court of Justice in the Realm (according to length of office) and an equal number of members elected for 6 years by the Parliament according to proportional representation. No member of the Parliament shall be elected or act as a member of the High Court of the Realm (Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution).
Updated: August 2007
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