COPENHAGEN – Denmark's ruling party said it would back a vote in parliament Thursday on whether a former immigration minister in the previous government can be tried before the rarely used Court of Impeachment for a 2016 order to separate asylum-seeking couples when one of the pair was a minor.
The move by the Social Democrats means there is a majority in favor of a trial against Inger Stoejberg, who served as integration minister from June 2015 to 2019. If the vote is successful and Stoejberg is eventually charged and then convicted at a trial, she could face a fine or a maximum two years in prison.
Earlier this month, lawyers appointed by parliament said there was a legal basis to charge Stoejberg. 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.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a statement that the Social Democratic Party “has chosen to agree that the Folketing (Parliament) initiates a case in the Court of Impeachment on the basis of the clear legal assessments.”
The court, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last used 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.
If a majority in parliament decides that an official should face the court, the person is then charged. There can be no appeal.
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.
A vote in Denmark’s 179-seat Folketing later Thursday to decide whether to try Stoejberg is seen as a formality since the Social Democrats, which heads a minority government and has 48 seats in the parliament, have the support of other parties.
Stoejberg’s own Liberals said it would also back such a trial, but would leave it up to its members to decide for themselves. Two smaller parties — the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party and the far-right New Right — have said they will vote against it.
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 the ages of 15 and 32. 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.
In 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.