COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Two lawyers appointed by Denmark’s Parliament said Wednesday that a former immigration minister in the previous government can be tried before a rarely used court for a 2016 order to separate asylum-seeking couples when one of the pair was a minor.
Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper quoted the lawyers as saying there was a legal basis to charge Inger Stoejberg, who served as integration minister from June 2015 to 2019. “There is a reasonable presumption that (it) may lead to a conviction,” the lawyers said in their opinion presented to Parliament..
They based their conclusion on a report by a commission that said separating couples in asylum centers was “clearly illegal” and that Stoejberg had received warnings from her department that the practice was unlawful.
Stoejberg, who was considered an immigration hardliner, said 32 couples were to be separated but only 23 of them were split up before the policy was halted months later.
It is now up to Denmark’s 179-seat Folketing to decide whether to try Stoejberg before the Court of Impeachment, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office.
The ruling Social Democrats and Stoejberg’s own center-right Liberals had said they would wait to decide whether to hold a vote on a trial until the lawyers provided their assessment.
“I think, is a shame,” Stoejberg said of the lawyers' conclusion. “One doesn't die from facing an impeachment court, but I just do not think there is evidence for a trial."
During her time in office, Stoejberg spearheaded the tightening of asylum and immigration rules. Denmark adopted a law in 2016 requiring newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewelry and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.
Danish media noted that most of the women in the divided couples were between the ages of 15 and 17 and the men were between 15- and 32-years-old. Most came from Syria, and some had children or the women were pregnant.
In Denmark, the legal marriage age is 18. The women who were minors said they had consented to their marriages.
The Court of Impeachment was last used 1995. Former Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was given a suspended four-month sentence for having prevented refugees from Sri Lanka from bringing their families to Denmark.
Since the 2019 election that brought the Social Democrats to power, immigration has become a less pressing issue in Danish politics.