7 December 2023

Professor Henning Koch, LLD – eulogy


By Emeritus Professor Jørn Vestergaard.

Henning Koch's scholarly talents came into play while he was still studying law. At the time, he became the driving force in an interdisciplinary research project regarding police law enforcement activities. The results of the investigation was published in a groundbreaking report that indicated Henning's linguistic ingenuity, namely with the ambiguous title Hvem(s) er politiet? (Who(‘s) are the police?). During his legal studies, Henning, under the auspices of Foreningen KRIM (the KRIM Association), was also the leading figure behind a well-argued opposition to the Criminal Procedure Committee's proposal to water down the conditions for detention on suspicion. As a member of Retspolitisk Forening (the Association of Legal Policy), he shed critical light on the police complaint system in force at the time. Henning quickly became a leading police researcher in the Nordic countries, and he was recognized in this country as the Nestor in the field.

My first meeting with Henning was in a study group affiliated with the Forening for Retssociologi (Association for the Sociology of Law). We got on well together and became close friends. Later, we were both employed at the Kriminalistisk Institut (Institute of Penal Law and Criminology), which at that time housed a colourful cross-section of young researchers with an eye for the mysteries of the criminal justice system and the challenges of the criminal policy of that era. Here we had, among others, the sociologist and criminologist Flemming Balvig as a colleague and good friend, and together we acquired a dilapidated farmhouse in Småland, where we shared many happy memories.

At the institute and in private, Henning was a festive focal point with a special ability to contribute humorous and quirky elements, including linguistically hilarious parodies of Nordic colleagues. He instituted and awarded the Media Flip Award at the annual Christmas party, awarded to someone who had made a more or less advantageous impression in the public debate. He himself participated in the public discourse with a particular commitment, including on the basis of astute analyses of fundamental minority rights. He defended the ban on blasphemy and the racism clause as protecting vulnerable minorities and safeguarding order and peace on the basis of sound studies of sources. He would have been able to qualify the current debate on prohibiting improper treatment of religious scriptures with solid legal arguments.

Henning had many talents and a great knowledge of music, literature, and film. He was able to recount in depth and knowledgably on the making of Stanley Kubrick's film Paths of Glory.

The diversity of contributions in the commemorative volume Rettens magt – magtens ret (The Power of the Rights – The Rights of Power), with which colleagues from Denmark and abroad paid tribute to Henning Koch when he turned 65, is an expression of his broad network of contacts and professional recognition. In the preface to the work, we described him as the intellectual lawyer with a faculty for putting law into a historical, political, moral-philosophical and often literary context. In his dissertation on the police during the occupation and the justification of emergency intervention in extraordinary circumstances, he united these approaches. In keeping with Henning's sense of the pithy expression, the title of the dissertation was Demokrati – slå til! (Democracy – strike!) about state emergency law, the police and the restrictions on civil liberties 1932-1945. After obtaining his doctorate, he took over the professorship of national law. His office of this chair was marked, among other things, by his expert consideration of the European side of constitutional law.

Henning was a true sui generis, one of a kind. As a well-liked colleague and good friend, he is missed.