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From 1866 to 1905 the age of criminal responsibility was 10 years of age. From age 10 to age 15 the level of maturity (the ability to act responsibly) had to be considered in court from case to case. From 1905 to 1933 the age of responsibility was 14. In the criminal law which came into force in 1933 and is still in force—with adjustments—the age of criminal responsibility was fixed at the age of 15 (Greve 2004).

Neither Denmark nor any other Scandinavian Country have (or have ever had) a particular Juvenile Justice system or Juvenile Justice Law and in all the Scandinavian Countries the age of criminal responsibility as well as the age of (sexual) consent is 15. However, this tradition is currently being challenged by Denmark.

The first challenge to this long tradition was in the period between July 2010 and February 2012 where the age of criminal responsibility was lowered to 14. One political party (Danish People’s Party) had proposed this several times before but it was always turned down. In 2009 a political situation came up where the government was in the minority and needed votes for the decision of the state budget for 2010. A compromise was made where the People’s Party voted for the budget and in return the party gained consensus on the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility. A few other rules in the Criminal Code were changed in a repressive direction at the same time such as a removal of a maximum of 8 years of imprisonment if the offender was below 18 when the offence was committed. After the following election a new government was in power and the age of criminal responsibility was returned back to 15.

The age of consent was not changed and is not included in the renewed debate. In 2014 a new proposal was presented by four political parties in the Parliament. This was not a proposal for a new law but a proposal to instruct the government to bring forward a proposal for a new juvenile court directed at juveniles between 12 and 17 (B 19/2014). Included in a new court system is a new probation service and a new juvenile criminal process. Included in the proposal was an effort to be consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that the Government should secure that juveniles could not be imprisoned with persons over the age of 18. At first this proposal was not endorsed by the Parliament. But after an election (June 2015) the new government has announced that the Juvenile Justice system will be renewed in the near future. The rhetoric in the debate for the time being (spring 2016) is concentrated on a focused response to juvenile crime, defeating the “the hard core” offenders, and things like “stopping little brothers’ involvement with crime.” On the other hand, the Minister of Justice says in public that as far as he is concerned, children should never go to prison. Important questions have still not been answered, including: what age defines the transition from child to juvenile. For the time being it seems likely that later this year Denmark will become the first Scandinavian Country to introduce a Juvenile Justice Law and a Juvenile Justice System.

The age of sexual consent has not been included in the debate and is not likely to be included. It seems most likely that the age of consent will remain 15. Today it is widely believed that there is no criminal response to cases where a 14- and a 15-year-old have sexual intercourse. How a similar situation will be handed in the future if they are both included in a criminal justice system is hard to say.

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