Denmark

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Criminal Defamation

Defamation remains a criminal offence in Denmark (punishable with imprisonment).

The Danish Criminal Code (Straffeloven) defines two related crimes: defamation and insult.

Insult is defined as injuring another’s honour through insulting words or actions (Art. 267).

Defamation is defined as spreading allegations of events or relations capable of harming a person’s esteem or reputation in society (Art. 267).

Both defamation and insult are punishable by fines or imprisonment for up to four months (Art.  267).

If defamation or insult is committed in bad faith, or if the offender had good reason to think the information was false, the penalty is increased to a term of imprisonment for up to two years (Art. 268).

Under Art. 270, even if a statement can be proven true, it may still be liable as insult if the way in which the statement was made amounts to an insult (“formal insult”).

 

Criminal Defamation of Public Officials

Provisions on the books.

Under Art. 121 of the Danish Criminal Code, insulting a public official in the course of the official’s duty is punishable with imprisonment for up to six months.

 

Criminal Defamation of the Head of State

Provisions on the books.

Denmark maintains lèse-majesté laws.

If defamation or insult is committed against the Danish king, the usual punishments are doubled (Art. 115 of the Danish Criminal Code). If the victim is the queen, the queen mother, or the heir to the throne, punishment is increased by 50 percent.

 

Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols

No provisions.

 

Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols

Provisions on the books.

Defamation or insult committed against a foreign head of state or head of a foreign diplomatic mission, the usual punishments are doubled (Art. 110d).

Art. 110e of the Danish Criminal Code punishes the public insult of a foreign state, its flag or other recognised symbol, or the flag of the United Nations or the European Council. The punishment is a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

 

Criminal Defamation of the Deceased

Provisions on the books.

Insulting the honour of the dead is punishable by a fine under Art. 274 of the Danish Criminal Code. The statute of limitations is 20 years.

Where the act of defaming the dead is done in bad faith, or where there was reason to believe the information was false, the maximum punishment increases to imprisonment for up to four months. In addition, the statute of limitations does not apply

 

Criminal Blasphemy

Provisions on the books.

Under Art. 140 of the Danish Criminal Code, mocking a person’s religion or the doctrine of a faith is a criminal offence is punishable by imprisonment for up to four months.

 

Other Relevant Criminal Offences

Group defamation

Art. 266b of the Danish Criminal Code covers “hate speech”. Hate speech is defined as publicly making threatening, degrading or spiteful statements about a group of people, on the basis of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.. The punishment provided is fines or imprisonment for up to two years.

 

Criminal Procedure

Under the Danish Criminal Code, defamation cases are to be brought only by means of a “private complaint” (Art. 275).

 

Statistics on Application

The following are official data on criminal convictions for the year 2014 from Statistics Denmark, provided upon request to the International Press Institute.

For Arts. 267-270 (defamation and insult), there was 1 conviction resulting in 1 criminal fine.
For Art. 121 (insult of a public official), there were 43 , resulting in 7 prison sentences and 9 criminal fines.
For Art. 115 (lèse-majesté), there were 0 convictions.
For Art. 140 (blasphemy), there were 0 convictions.
For Art. 274 (insulting the honour of the dead), there were 0 convictions.

Historical data for the years 2007 – 2014 can be downloaded here (Excel, English).

 

Civil Defamation

Danish civil law does not provide specific provisions for defamation.

Damages

There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Danish law.

Media Cases and Case Law

According to Danish experts consulted, Danish courts routinely refer to and apply the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in defamation cases.

Noteworthy cases

In 2007, a Danish historian named Bent Jensen gave an interview to the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in which he stated that there was evidence that a Danish journalist well known for his reporting on the Cold War, Jørgen Dragsdahl, was a KGB spy. Dragsdahl sued Jensen and the paper for libel. In 2010, a court in Svendborg Jensen to pay a criminal fine of DKK 40,000 and DKK 200,000 in damages. Jyllands-Posten was acquitted by the same court. Bent appealed, and in Oct. 2013, Denmark’s Eastern High Court (Østre Landsret) overturned the lower court’s verdict. The High Court that Dragsdahl’s actions were a subject of public interest and that Jensen had sufficient factual basis for making his claim; as such, under the circumstances, Jensen’s right to freedom of expression overruled Dragsdahl’s right to privacy. In January 2014, it was that Dragsdahl had been granted leave to appeal to the Danish Supreme Court.

In 2014, an appeals court four journalists working for Denmark’s public broadcaster to pay criminal fines for defamation in relation to a 2009 radio broadcast that had a criticised a housing association. The court overturned a district court ruling that had found in favour of the journalists.

 

Recent Legal Changes

No known relevant changes.

 

Notes and Acknowledgements

Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)

The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.

Information on Denmark was last updated in January 2015.

 

Note: These numbers do not include data for insult of a police officer, considered under the same article, for which there were 289 convictions resulting in 46 prison sentences and 217 fines.
Bo Maltesen, “Dragsdahl vinder injuriesag mod historiker”, May 7, 2010, Politiken.
Domsresumée: Historiker frifundet for injurier mod journalist på grund af udtalelser om agentvirksomhed for KGB og desinformation under Den Kolde Krig”, Østre Landsret, Oct. 25, 2013. Full decision (17. afd. nr. B-2018-10: Bent Jensen mod Jørgen Dragsdahl) of the Eastern High Court.
http://www.information.dk/486290
Share This