Crime For Members

EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner gets arrested in Denmark?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner gets arrested in Denmark?
The Herstedvester prison in Albertslund, outside Copenhagen. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

It’s a situation nobody ever wants to be in, but what happens if you’re arrested in Denmark? What should you do, and what are your rights?


Most of the people who come to Denmark to work, join a Danish partner, or start a new life are law-abiding folk. Hardly anyone comes with the intention of breaking the law.

But from time to time, due to an accident, misfortune or poor decision-making, foreigners do end up on the wrong side of the law. 

Pray it never happens, but if you are arrested in Denmark, what are your rights? What happens next, and who can help you? 

Whether it’s a traffic accident, misunderstanding, or murder charge, Danish law follows certain processes upon arrest. 


Getting arrested 

Police can arrest (anholde) you if you are reasonably suspected of having committed a crime, to "secure your presence", to prevent you from committing further crimes, or to prevent you from influencing an investigation.

This 'reasonable suspicion' might be based on a single police officer witnessing you breaking into a shop, for instance, or it might be the result of a preliminary police investigation, or a report sent to the police by a citizen. 

According to a guide to arrest by the Danish Prosecution Service, police must carry out arrests "as considerately as possible", and they must tell you what you are provisionally charged with as soon as possible after the arrest. 

The police may carry out a body search to check if you have any objects on you that might be used either as a weapon, to endanger yourself or others, or to escape. The police will also probably seize any cash you have on you and keep it for the the duration of the arrest. 

The police are legally authorised to perform non-intimate body searches, such as searching your clothing. They can also take DNA, weigh you, photograph and measure you. They need to get court approval, however, to carry out an intimate body search, unless you or your lawyer give consent.

Being held under arrest 

Police can only hold you under arrest for a maximum of 24 hours without court approval and must release you as soon as there is no longer a clear reason to keep you detained.

If the police want to detain you for more than 24 hours, a judge must decide in a so called "preliminary statutory hearing" or grundlovsforhør if there is sufficient reason to keep you in pre-trial custody. 

Shortly after you have been arrested, the police will advise you of your right to contact a lawyer. The British embassy has a list of local English-speaking lawyers. You also have the right to an interpreter.

You may be permitted to contact a family member either in Denmark or in your home country, but this is not a right. 


The police will also probably ask if you want them to contact the embassy of your home country. If they do not ask, you can tell them to contact your embassy. They are then obliged to do so.

Your embassy cannot help get you out of prison or detention, get you special treatment, offer legal advice, or pay any of your costs. They may, however, be able to contact relatives on your behalf, help find you a lawyer who speaks your language, and keep in contact with you throughout the process. 

The police can, if they see it as necessary, hold you in solitary confinement while under arrest. This involves no contact with any other inmates or people outside the police station, with the exception of your lawyer and representatives of your embassy.  

Police interrogation 

Once you have arrived at the police station, the police will almost certainly carry out a formal interrogation. They can also interrogate you at the scene of the alleged crime or at the place where you are first arrested. 


Before you are questioned, the police must inform you about the crime you are provisionally charged with and also inform you that you are not obliged to make a statement. 

READ MORE: How strict are the punishments for driving offences in Denmark?

If the interrogation takes place at the police station, you can demand that your defence lawyer is present. Your lawyer can also ask supplementary questions to make sure that any crucial information is on the record. 

After the interrogation, the police will provide you with a written record of the interrogation. If you agree with their account, you can sign the record. If you disagree you can make additions or corrections, which must then be included in the report. 

The "preliminary statutory hearing" or grundlovsforhør

If the police want to detain you for longer than 24 hours, they need to get court approval at a so-called grundlovsforhør or "preliminary statutory hearing".

This is a public hearing, so your friends and relatives can attend, as can journalists if the crime you are accused of committing is in some way newsworthy. The judge can opt for a closed hearing if there is a legal reason to do so. 

At the start of the hearing, the judge will request your name and date of birth. The prosecutor will then state the provisional charge and present a brief account of the case, explaining why it is necessary for you to be detained in custody.

You will also get an opportunity to say a few words in your defence, and your defence lawyer will explain your position in the case.

The judge will then decide whether to place you in pre-trial custody, extend your arrest, or to release you. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What do the Danish words used in crime investigations mean?

If you are placed in pre-trial custody you will be held in a varetægtsfængslet, or "remand prison", a place for those suspected of committing a crime but not yet found guilty in court. You can only be held in remand if you are suspected of committing a crime with a maximum prison sentence of one and a half years. 

If the judge decides that there is not yet enough evidence to place you in pre-trial custody, but wants to give police more time, they can extend your arrest for a further 24 hours. You can serve a maximum of three 24-hour periods under arrest before you must either be released or placed in remand. 


Varetægtsfængslet, or "remand prison"

Denmark has no bail system and as a foreign national you are at a higher risk of fleeing back to your home country, so you are highly likely to be held in "remand prison" during the investigation into your case and also during the court case. 

A judge can sentence you to a maximum of four weeks in remand, after which your stay needs to be extended in another court hearing. 

According to the Danish Bar Council, the average person in extended remand, is detained for six months before a final judgement is made on their case in court. About 35 percent of those held in remand, are held in long-term detention.

Denmark is regularly criticised by the UN Committee Against Torture for its over-use of pre-trial detention, with remand prisoners typically detained in an eight square metre cell for up to 23 hours a day. 

Once you are in pre-trial custody, you tend to have a little more contact with the outside world than when you are under arrest. You may be able to receive visits, and to receive and send letters.

The police may decide to deny you visitation privileges, or insist on supervising the visit, or deny you the right to send and receive letters, if they see a risk that you will seek to influence your case. 



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