Features - Finnish Law on the InternetBy Sami Sarvilinna, Published on March 3, 2001
Mr. Sami Sarvilinna works as a senior officer for legal affairs in the Finnish Ministry of Justice. He is in charge of the international affairs of the Finnish judicial administration and the official liaison between the Ministry and the Finnish Prosecution Service. He has worked also as an information officer in the Ministry and as a judge in the criminal division of the Helsinki District Court. Sami holds law degrees from the University of Helsinki [LLB] and the University of Oxford [MJur]. He has also a second degree from Helsinki, a MA in English, Economics and Computer Science. Sami is a licensed translator between Finnish and English [and vice versa] and the author of the chapter on Finland in Winterton and Moys’ Information Sources in Law [Bowker-Saur, London, 2nd ed, 1997].
- Sources of Law -- Public Domain
- Sources of Law -- Commercial
- The Court System
- Parliamentary Information
- Government Information
- The Legal Profession
- Legal Education
- Legal Publishers
- Citation of Finnish Legal Materials
The roots of the Finnish legal system lie in the times when the country belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden [from the 12th century to 1809]. These 700 years of common history form the basis of the similarities between the Finnish and Swedish societies, similarities that are evident also in their legal structures. These were retained even after Finland had been ceded to Russia, as the Swedish legislation in force at the time remained in force also during Finland’s 108 years as an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Empire of the Czar. As a matter of fact, some parts of the original Swedish legislation continue to be applied to this day, even though Finland has been an independent republic since 1917.
The autonomous status that Finland enjoyed during the 19th century allowed also for legislative self-determination. Hence, virtually nothing of the legal tradition of Russia remains, while Finland continues to display the characteristics of a continental legal tradition, with influences from Scandinavia and particularly from Germany.
One lasting effect of the Swedish times is the status of the Swedish language. For centuries, it was the language of the upper classes and the administration. Finnish, on the other hand, was taken into legislative use only in the early 20th century. Even today Finland is a bilingual country, with Finnish and Swedish enjoying the same status as official languages. All legislation and most other official publications are available in both of them. In addition, it should be noted here that the unilingually Swedish-speaking Åland Islands, which lie between Finland and Sweden, have a far-reaching autonomy, enshrined in an Act that is “constitutional by nature” even though not formally a part of the Constitution.
Finland has been a member of the United Nations since 1955, of the Council of Europe since 1989 and of the European Union since 1995.
For further information, the Ministry of Justice has produced a leaflet in English on The Legal System of Finland. The text of the leaflet is available on the Ministry’s website.
The new Constitution of Finland entered into force on 1 March 2000. It superseded the four constitutional acts deriving from the early times of Finnish independence, incorporating the most fundamental provisions from all of them. At the same time, many provisions were relegated to the ranks of regular parliamentary legislation. A thorough outlook, in English, into the background, enactment and contents of the Constitution is available at the Ministry of Justice website. Note also that the text of the Constitution is available on the website in the two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, and also in translation into English, German, French, Spanish and the Sámi language.
The text of Åland’s Autonomy Act is available in English at http://www.lagtinget.aland.fi/eng/act.html.
All Finnish legislation, from the Constitution to regular Acts of Parliament, Presidential Decrees, Government Decrees, Ministry Decrees and various other types of subordinate regulation, is published in print in the Suomen säädöskokoelma, i.e. the Statute Book of Finland. Both the Finnish and the Swedish versions of this leaflet publication are available as PDF facsimiles at http://www.edita.fi/sk/.
There is a dedicated database for the dissemination of Finnish legislation, case law, official norms and international agreements. As always, most of the material on the website is available only in Finnish and Swedish, but there is also a specific section for translations of Finnish legislation. The section contains some links to the translated texts of certain Finnish Acts of Parliament, but in the main it provides only reference information on the availability of a translated text. The translations will then have to be ordered by other means.
A comprehensive two-volume edition of Finnish legislation, Suomen Laki I-II, i.e. the Laws of Finland, is published annually by a commercial enterprise, Kauppakaari Oyj. This work is available also as an online version, again both in Finnish and in Swedish. This version can be ordered, for a fee, at the publisher’s website.
Finland has a dual court system. There are the general courts, which are in charge of civil and criminal law, and the administrative courts, which, as their name indicates, deal with disputes between private persons and public authorities.
There are three tiers of general courts. The 66 District Courts operate as the courts of first instance, with jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases within their territorially limited districts. In addition, there is the appellate level of six Courts of Appeal, and finally the Supreme Court in Helsinki, as the court of final appeal. The case law of the Supreme Court is available at the aforementioned database. In addition, it has its own website.
The administrative courts operate on two tiers. Firstly, there are eight regional Administrative Courts, which deal with complaints against administrative acts. The judgements of these courts can then be appealed in the Supreme Administrative Court in Helsinki. Again, the case law of the Supreme Administrative Court is available at http://finlex.om.fi/. Also this court has its own database.
The Finnish Parliament also operates a database containing an extensive amount of material in English. Parliamentary papers, such as bills, committee reports, session minutes etc. are, however, available only in one or both of the official languages.
The general database of the Finnish Government contains a lot of information also in English. Policy texts are provided, as are links to various ministries and other public authorities and agencies.
For legal researchers, the Ministry of Justice database is naturally of the greatest interest. A mention should perhaps be made of the imminent launch of an Internet portal for the whole of the judicial administration of Finland. The portal is not yet operational, as the launch is envisaged only for April 2001, but once on line, it will provide a one-stop solution for those seeking information on the courts, prosecutors, bailiffs, legal aid bureaus and other public bodies dealing with the administration of justice in Finland. The portal will initially contain information in Finnish and Swedish only, but the objective is to supplement it later also with English material.
Advonet, the website of the Finnish Bar Association, contains information in English on the regulations governing the practice of law in Finland, as well as on the activities of the Bar Association. There is also an extensive legal links selection and a listing of the Association’s member firms around the country.
The Association of Finnish Lawyers is the general professional organisation of most lawyers in Finland, not only those admitted to the Bar. The Association’s website contains information on the activities of the association and on lawyer’s employment situation in Finland. Again, there is a long list of links that may be of interest to the legal profession.
Kauppakaari is the leading publisher of professional literature in Finland. Other notable legal publishers include WSLT, the legal publications subsidiary of WSOY, one of Finland’s largest general publishing houses, and Edita, which succeeded the government publishing agency upon its privatisation.
The cases taken into the yearbook of the Supreme Court are cited by indicating the abbreviated name of the Court, the year when the ruling was handed down and the number of the case, e.g. KKO:2001:1. Until 1986, the cases were divided into two series; the distinction was made by indicating the series in between the year and the case number, e.g. KKO:1986-I-1 or KKO:1986-II-1.
The citation system used in the Supreme Administrative Court is more complicated, as there are several number series for the various types of case dealt with by the court.. The general system of citation indicates merely the date when the ruling was handed down and the number of the case, e.g. 05.01.2001/5. The cases taken into the yearbook are sometimes cited also by using the Supreme Court method, e.g. KHO:1993-B-505.
The cases of the lower courts are normally not cited all that much. If a citation is needed, the date and number of the case can be provided. In Finland, cases are not cited by using a popular name.
The Constitution of Finland does have a number in the Statute Book of Finland (731/1999). This number, however, is hardly ever used; instead, the Constitution, as a unique instrument, is referred to by name only.
All other statutes, be they Acts of Parliament, Presidential Decrees, Government Decrees, Ministry Decrees or other lower-level norms, are cited by indicating their number in the Statute Book, e.g. 689/1997 (this statute, by the way, is the Criminal Procedure Act). The Suomen Laki I-II, a commercial publication of Finnish statutes, has its own system of signums: In that work, for instance, the Criminal Procedure Act is referred to as Pr 102.
Finnish legal periodicals provide their own recommendations for citation. In general, it can be noted that the most common citation format is to provide the year of publication of the article, plus the relevant page numbers (In most periodicals, the pages are numbered consecutively through an entire year of publication.)