Although I am a lawyer in the United States, I studied law for a semester at the University of Copenhagen. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to see different approaches to legal and societal questions. I also learned to bring my own bags to the grocery store and then bicycle home. And I learned what it was like to confuse people who spoke perfect English, but did not understand my patois of sarcasm and Simpsons references.
I am unable to send this blog’s dozen readers to Denmark, but I still want to share details about litigation in Denmark. So I spoke with Christian Dysted, a litigator at DAHL Law Firm in Copenhagen, to share his perspective on litigation there.
Why should you continue reading this post about litigation in Denmark?
You’re upset that Shakespeare cut out the scenes in Hamlet where Yorick’s family sues the local gravediggers for emotional distress damages.
You read my interview with lawyers from Russia and want some more low temperature law content.
You, like me, want to escape to a world with a poverty rate of only 3% and 0% document discovery.
Can you tell me about the kinds of disputes you handle in your legal practice?
DAHL is a full-service law firm. We handle all sorts of disputes.
What type of clients do you generally represent in disputes?
Our focus is the SME market. However, we also have large enterprises.
Besides Microsoft Office, what software do you use in your practice?
What books and websites do you use for legal research?
The market leader in Denmark is Karnov Group. There is a public alternative, but most use Karnov.
There is an alternative under way called Schultz. It will probably take another year or two before they are up and running.
The official website for the Danish parliament offers inside to legislative history that helps in interpreting the laws.
Do you electronically file pleadings with the court? Or must you send paper copies of them to the courthouse?
A few years ago, the Danish courts launched www.minretssag.dk, where all pleadings and documents related to cases must be uploaded. But the site requires a Danish eID login.
Generally speaking, how many pages are the complaints or initial pleadings you see in your work?
Initial pleadings vary in length. The shortest are about 5 pages, the longest are 30-50 pages.
Generally speaking, how long does it take for a case to go from complaint to judgment?
The Danish courts have been overwhelmed with cases the last few years. There is currently a focus on expediting cases concerning violence, weapons, and sexual abuse. Thus, the civil cases are scheduled for hearing before a judge 15-24 months after the initial pleading/subpoena.
The judgment is written and made public 2-4 weeks after the court hearing.
Does Denmark have a specialized court that only hears commercial cases?
The Maritime and Commercial Court is located in Copenhagen, but is nationwide and hears cases from all over the country. It is a specialized court that deals with civil cases where special expertise is required. This can be, for example, in international business cases, transport cases, patent cases, trademarks and designs, marketing cases, and competition cases. The Maritime and Commercial Court also deals with cases which might create a precedence where professional knowledge of labor market matters is of particular importance and cease and desist cases in the areas applying a special law.
In many civil cases in the Maritime and Commercial Court, one legal judge participates. In complex cases, 3 legal judges participate.
In addition to the legal judge, there are always at least 2 expert members of a deciding panel, and in special complex cases, 4 expert members. The court has a total of approximately 140 expert members, all of whom are nominated by business organizations for periods of 4 years. Thus, the experts are not appointed or selected by political parties.
The experts all have experience and special insight into one or more of the areas of the court, e.g. IP law, marketing, transport law, or maritime law.
Who decides the facts in a commercial case? Is it a judge or a jury?
Only criminal cases with a potential sentence of more than four years in prison are decided by a jury.
All other cases are decided by 1-3 judges.
Generally speaking, how is evidence exchanged between the parties before trial?
Each party must secure their own evidence. Each party can ask the other party to present evidence if the asking party believes the other party is in possession of certain evidence. However, there are no material consequence if a party fails to present evidence. The judge will instead weigh the evidence – or lack thereof – and take into account that a party failed to present evidence, and then decide the case on the presented evidence.
Do you get to interview the opposing witnesses before the trial?
There is no legal basis for interviewing opposing counsel’s witnesses before trial or taking depositions.
But on the day on which a witness testifies in court, opposing counsel may conduct an informal talk with them to learn about their testimony. No transcript is made of this conversation.
Opposing counsel may also ask the court to compel a witness to come to court to testify.
If you win, does the other side reimburse your attorneys’ fees?
The losing party must pay the legal fee of the trial to the other party.
Legal costs are decided based on the value of the matter of the case. The courts have an index based on the value of the case which states how much to legal fee is awarded to the winning party. Complexity of the case is to some extent added to the amount of legal fees.
The awarded legal fees do not cover the actual attorney fees. Thus, both the winning and the losing party will have to cover most of their own legal fees.
Are Danish courts open to the public? Can ordinary people watch a commercial trial?
All trials are open to the public. Exceptions can of course be made, such as to protect specific witness testimony.
What features make the Danish and Scandinavian legal systems unique?
The Danish and Scandinavian legal systems are known for having zero corruption and bribes. The judges are always impartial.
Denmark is currently ranked number 1 in the latest corruption perception index. In comparison, the US is ranked 25.
But I do not think Denmark has any particular strengths for resolving commercial disputes. However, the Maritime and Commercial Court could be seen as a strength.
How often do you go to the courthouse?
I go a few times a year.
When you are there, do you need to wear a special robe or wig?
Robes are not required when appearing before a city court, but lawyers must wear them before a high court and before the Supreme Court.
We have no wigs.