Credits to
Alice Giannini

The use of criminal law to fight Covid-19-related emergencies and the Danish case: placebo or panacea?

Issue 1/2021

Abstract. The purpose of this paper is to conduct an analysis of the role of criminal law in the fight of Covid-19-related emergencies in Denmark. By adopting reflections typical of the Italian criminal legal school on panpenalismo, i.e. the pathological expansion of the field of application of criminal law, the investigation will focus on how criminal sanctions have been used and portrayed as an efficient tool to contrast the pandemic in the Danish legal system, focusing on the role played by the media discourse. Interestingly so, it can be observed that often criminal tools and, in general, governmental responses to the virus have been associated with war-like metaphors: «Vi er i krig» stated the Justice Minister of Denmark Nick Hækkerup. Indeed, in early April the Danish Parliament adopted an urgent bill which reformed the Danish Criminal Code in response to the uproar emerged by the news of thefts of hand sanitizer and protective equipment from hospitals. The bill is characterized by an increase of criminal penalties for a number of offenses when committed in relation with the corona pandemic. Thus, the numbers of “corona-crimes” committed in Denmark never reached worrying numbers. So was there really an emergency situation calling for such urgent criminal legislation? Is “criminal maximalism” the solution or has it been used as a placebo to quiet concerned citizens? This paper will explore such questions, using Covid-19 emergency law as a paradigm for a broader investigation into the tangle of the idea of criminal law to face emergencies.

This article was submitted anonymously for evaluation by two expert reviewers, with a positive outcome.


SUMMARY: 1. Introduction: on panpenalismo, populist criminal law and war-like metaphors. – 2. The legal framework for management of epidemics in Denmark. – 3. “Dropping the hammer”:  law n. 349/2020 – Increased punishment for offenses based on or committed in the context of Covid-19 (Lov om ændring af straffeloven, retsplejeloven og udlændingeloven – Skærpet straf for lovovertrædelser med baggrund i eller sammenhæng med covid-19). – 4. Conclusive remarks: placebo or panacea?


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