The Parliament (the Folketing), the government and the Supreme Court are the supreme governing bodies, and are the legislative, the executive and the judicial powers, respectively, pursuant to section 3 of the Constitution. Among other powers, the courts are authorised to rule on whether the decisions of the executive branch are in accordance with the law, and whether the laws enacted by the Folketing are in accordance with the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body for Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. As the country's supreme court, it must contribute to clarification in cases where the state of the law is unclear. The Supreme Court is also within the statutory framework responsible for the development of the law.
The Supreme Court is a court of appeal that reviews judgments and orders delivered by the High Court of Eastern Denmark, the High Court of Western Denmark and the Maritime and Commercial Court. Thus it is not possible to bring a case directly before the Supreme Court. The 2007 court reform implies that almost all cases start in the district courts and may be freely taken to the High Court for appeal. However, appeals against the high courts' decisions and orders are subject to permission from the Appeals Permission Board.
Permission is granted if the case is of general importance and, for criminal cases, also if special circumstances apply. If a case has been heard by the high courts in the first instance because it is of general importance or by the Maritime and Commercial Court, it may be brought before the Supreme Court without permission.
The Supreme Court hears both civil and criminal cases. Civil cases are cases between the citizens and cases between a citizen and the civil service. In criminal cases, the Supreme Court decides on questions regarding sentencing, expulsion and interpretation of the law, but does not review the question of guilt or innocence.
When a civil case is brought before the Supreme Court, the counsel's pre-trial work often leads to questions such as whether to produce new evidence or procure further information. The Supreme Court's Appeals Committee considers these questions and ensures that the cases are set down for the hearing as quickly as possible. The parties' counsels are responsible for procuring further information and hearing witnesses etc. There is no production of evidence before the Supreme Court in the form of testimony by the parties or by witnesses as is the case before the district and high courts. This means that hearing of the parties and of witnesses during the pre-trial stage takes place at a court hearing presided over by an assistant judge in the Supreme Court or at a district court. The Appeals Committee is composed of three justices of the Supreme Court. The Committee also considers appeals in interlocutory proceedings, such as a decision made by a high court during the hearing of a case. This may be a decision regarding pre-trial detention or production of evidence. The Committee reviews cases in writing, which means that its decisions are only based on the exhibits in the case and briefs from counsel.
Normally, trials in the Supreme Court are oral proceedings and are almost always in open court, which means that members of the public are free to attend. The cases are presented to the justices by the parties' counsels – in criminal cases by the Prosecution and the defendant's counsel. A party to a civil case is entitled to represent himself; however, this option is rarely exercised in practice.
The Supreme Court is composed of two chambers which work concurrently. There is no difference between the types of cases heard by the two chambers, and the justices move between the chambers three to four times a year. The cases are allocated to the justices at random. This means that there is no specialisation of chambers or justices. Normally, a panel is composed of five justices. In cases concerning questions of general importance, seven or more justices may sit on the panel. After the hearing, the justices deliberate, which means that each justice sets out his or her opinion of the case. This often takes a long time, normally three to four hours. The justices' deliberations are not open to the public or counsel, and the minutes are not made publicly available. When the justices are finished deliberating, they jointly draw up the judgment containing the grounds for the judgment. A justice who does not agree with the majority may dissent and state his or her reasoning in the judgment. The judgment is normally delivered one week after the hearing. The judgment and a summary are placed on the Supreme Court's website immediately after the judgment has been delivered.