Denmark’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted to try a former immigration minister at the rarely used court of impeachment over a 2016 order aimed at separating asylum-seeking couples where one partner is under 18.
The 179-member Folketing voted 139-30 to try Inger Støjberg, who served in the previous government from June 2015 to 2019. The court will convene for the first time in 26 years.
She has been charged with illegally initiating the separation of cohabiting couples where one partner was a minor while being in the care of the Danish asylum system. She also misled parliamentary committees on four separate occasions when informing them of her decision.
Støjberg could face an unspecified fine or a maximum two years in prison. No date for a trial was announced.
A parliament-appointed commission had said earlier that separating couples in asylum centres was “clearly illegal” and that Støjberg had received warnings from her department that the practice was unlawful.
The court, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last convened in 1995. Created in 1849, five cases have been brought before the court, which consists of 15 supreme court judges and 15 members appointed by the Danish parliament. Only two ministers have been found guilty in the court’s history.
Støjberg, who was considered an immigration hardliner, said while in office that 32 couples were to be separated, but only 23 of them were split up before the policy was halted months later. She cannot appeal against a court ruling.
Støjberg had spearheaded the tightening of asylum and immigration rules, and Denmark adopted a law in 2016 requiring newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewellery and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.
Danish media noted that most of the women among the separated couples were between the ages of 15 and 17 and the men were between 15 and 32. Most came from Syria and some couples had children or the women were pregnant.
In Denmark the legal age of marriage is 18. The women who were under 18 said they had consented to their marriage.
In 1995, the former justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen received a suspended four-month sentence for preventing Sri Lankan refugees from bringing their families to Denmark.
Immigration has become a less pressing issue in Danish politics since the Social Democrats took power in the 2019 election.