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UPDATE: Finnish Law on the Internet

 

By Sami Sarvilinna and  Erika Bergström

 

Sami Sarvilinna presently works as general counsel for the city of Helsinki. He has prominent experience from legislative work having worked as a Senior Officer for Legal Affairs in the Finnish Ministry of Justice. He holds law degrees from the University of Helsinki [LLM] and the University of Oxford [MJur], as well as a public policy degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University [MPP]. He also has a second degree from Helsinki - an MA in English, Economics and Computer Science. He 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].

 

Erika Bergström works as a Chief Information Specialist at the Library of Parliament of Finland. She graduated from the University of Helsinki Faculty of Law in 1997 (LLM) and obtained a post-graduate degree of law in 2006 (LL.Lic), also from the University of Helsinki. Prior to joining the Library of Parliament she worked for ten years as a lawyer and legal information specialist at one of Finland's leading law firms.

 

Published November/December 2011

(November/December 2008 update by Erika Bergström)

See the Archive Version!

 

Table of Contents

1. Background

2. Constitution

3. Sources of Law - Public Domain

4. Sources of Law - Commercial

5. The Court System

6. Parliamentary Information

7. Government Information

8. The Legal Profession

9. Legal Education and Research Institutions

10. Legal Publishers and Legal Literature

1. Background

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 also allowed 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. Even today Finland is a bilingual country, with Finnish and Swedish enjoying the same status as official languages (detailed information on the Ministry of Justice website). 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, please refer to the English-language home page of the website of the Ministry of Justice.

2. Constitution

The 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. In Finland, Sovereign Power Rests with the People, a thorough outlook in English into the background, enactment and contents of the Constitution is available online. Note also that the text of the Constitution is available on the Internet in the two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, and also in translation into English, German, French, Spanish, Russian and the Sámi language (pdf format files). It should, however, be noted that the amendments that were made to the Constitution in 2007 are included only in the official language versions and in the Russian language translation. Amendments to the constitution are presently pending.

 

The text of the Act on the Autonomy of Åland is likewise available in English.

3. Sources of Law - Public Domain

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 the Suomen säädöskokoelma, i.e. the Statute Book of Finland. Until the end of 2010, the printed Statute Book constituted the official source of law in Finland. Due to an amendment of the Act on the Statutes of Finland, electronic publication of statutes was given an official status. Consequently, electronic publishing became the primary channel of publishing statues in Finland as of the beginning of the year 2011. The Electronic Statute Book of Finland is published free of charge in legislative data bank FINLEX.

 

FINLEX, the data bank for the dissemination of Finnish legislation and other legal information, was established as a subscription service in the 1980s. The present version of FINLEX was launched in 2004 and is available on the Internet free of charge. Most of the material on the website is available only in Finnish and Swedish, but there is also some material in English. FINLEX consists of five subject areas:

 

·       Legislative information, containing translations of Finnish Acts and Decrees, mostly into English; consolidated and original texts of Acts and Decrees; a reference database of changes made to any Act or Decree; and all Sámi language legislation. The most recent legislation is available also as pdf files in the ”Electronic Statutes of Finland”.

·       Case-law from the following courts: The Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, the Courts of Appeal, the regional Administrative Courts, the Market Court, the Labour Court and the Insurance Court. In addition, there are summaries of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EC, as well as a reference database on case-law in legal literature.

·       Secondary legislation: The decrees, decisions and regulations of Ministries and Central Agencies; the decisions of the Chancellor of Justice and of the Data Protection Board; Collective Agreements concluded by registered associations of employers and employees.

·       Treaties concluded by Finland, including a reference database of the date of entry into force, date of  ratification, parties and the reservations made by the parties. The most recent treaties are available also as pdf files in the ”Electronic Treaty Series of Finland”, including the texts in the original languages, e.g. English or French.

·       Government Bills (draft legislation) are available from 1992 in html-format. As of 2001, the Government Bills are available in pdf-format as well.

4. Sources of Law - Commercial

A comprehensive three-volume edition of Finnish legislation, Suomen Laki I-III, i.e. the Laws of Finland, is published annually by a commercial enterprise, Talentum . This work is available also as an online version, which is available by subscription. The legislation in Suomenlaki I-III contains references to other legislation, case law and preparatory work. The online version provide for case law, preparatory work and some legal literature in full-text.

 

In 2008, Edita Publishing introduced its version of the Finnish legislation under the name Lakikirja, i.e. the Law Book. The first edition of the book contained legislation in the field of private, criminal and procedural law. Lakikirja is now published as two-volume edition offering also a separate book containing legislation in the field of public law. As an additional service, Edita Publishing provides for electronic monitoring of the amendments of acts published in the book. The monitoring is carried out through the Edilex online service.

In the field of legal information, Edilex provides for a comprehensive on-line legal information service. Edilex contains a database of national legislation, a daily news service, case law, articles, journals and other material. Subscription is required for most of the services. Edilex is provided by Edita Publishing.

 

Another on-line legal information service is WSOYPro.fi, which is provided by WSOYPro Oy. WSOYPro Oy was formerly a part of Finland's largest publishing house WSOY, but was registered as a separate company in 2009. The online service consists of the following parts: business online, legal online, dictionary online and facts online. The legal material in the online service contains legal literature, which is updated regularly, as well as legislation and case law referred to in the literature. The service also provide for a news section.

5. The Court System

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 review the actions of public authorities on the basis of appeals filed by private individuals and corporations.

 

There are three tiers of general courts. The District Courts operate as the courts of first instance, with jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases within their territorially limited districts. Due to a reform, the amount of district courts was reduced from 51 to the present amount of 27 in 2010. 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 administrative courts operate on two tiers. Firstly, there are nine regional Administrative Courts, which deal with appeals against administrative acts. The judgements of these courts can then be appealed in the Supreme Administrative Court in Helsinki.

 

The Ministry of Justice maintains a website with general information of the judicial system in Finland, including links to relevant web pages. In addition to Finnish, Swedish and the Sámi language, the contents of the website are available also in English.The website contains or links to information on:

 

·       The independent courts of law;

·       The prosecution service; and

·       The enforcement authorities;

·       The Finnish Bar Association and the other avenues of legal aid;

·       The institutions responsible for accessibility of European Legal Remedies in Finland;

 

The Criminal Sanctions Agency is responsible for the enforcement of sentences in Finland. At the beginning of the year 2010 the Criminal Sanctions Agency, the Prison Service and the Probation Service, which had previously been operating as independent authorities, were combined into one organization.

6. Parliamentary Information

The Parliament of Finland website contains an extensive amount of material also in English. Parliamentary papers, such as bills, committee reports, session minutes etc. are, however, available only in one or both of the official languages.

 

From the Library of Parliament website, the database Finnish legal literature search 1982- can be accessed. The database covers books and articles on law and jurisprudence that are published in Finland, written by Finnish authors or dealing with subjects considering Finland, from the year 1982 onwardsThe library main database, SELMA, contains material published prior to 1982. The user interface of the SELMA database is available in Finnish, Swedish and English .

 

The Library of Parliament's Information Service provides assistance in finding legal information, social and political information and parliamentary information. Enquiries can be addressed to the Information Service in person, by phone or by e-mail.

7. Government Information

The Finnish Government web service has also a dedicated English-language area. The site offers an extensive view into how the executive branch of government operates in Finland. Of course, much of the content is political or otherwise topical, rather than legal, in nature, but the site does contain information, e.g. on the legislative programme of the government currently in charge. In due course, this policy paper and the others available on the site have an effect also on the contents of the law in Finland.

 

Suomi.fi, the portal for public sector services in Finland, has been in existence since 2002. It contains information relevant to everyday life, collected in different subject areas. It also covers all aspects of legislation, government and judicial affairs in Finland, and naturally offers a full complement of links to all relevant sites, including the ones provided in this article.  

8. The Legal Profession

The website of the Finnish Bar Association contains information 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, as well as an “Advocate Finder” service for searching attorneys and law firms, e.g. on the basis of location, specialisation and language skills.

 

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.

9. Legal Education and Research Institutions

There are full-scale Faculties of Law at three Universities in Finland. These are:

·       The Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki;

·       The Faculty of Law of the University of Turku; and,

·       The Faculty of Law of the University of Lapland  

In addition, there are several institutions of higher education that offer a narrower choice of law-related subjects. These include:

·       The Department of Law , the Institute of Maritime and Commercial Law and the Institute for Human Rights  at Åbo Akademi University;

·       The Department of Commercial Law at the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration;

·       The Department of Law at the University of Eastern Finland;

·       The Department of Law at the University of Tampere;

·       The Department of Business Law   and the Public law unit at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vaasa; and,

·       The School of Economics at the Aalto University provide for education in Business Law.

The National Research Institute of Legal Policy conducts impartial research on legal policy, publishes related reports and follows the development of Finnish and international legal policy research. The Justice Statistics of Statistics Finland cover e.g. crime recorded by the police, criminal cases before the courts, prosecutions, sentencing, enforcement, and police activities. 

 

Law libraries in Finland include the Library of Parliament, which is by law Finland’s national research library for law and political science,  the City Centre Campus Library at Helsinki University Library and the Turku University Law Library.

 

The Library of Parliament maintains the ELKI link library, which is an excellent gateway to public Internet resources from various fields of knowledge concentrating on political and legal resources, public administration and the European Union.

10. Legal Publishers and Legal Literature

 

Legal publishers

Talentum is Finland’s leading publisher for legal professional literature. Other notable legal publishers are WSOY and Edita Publishing, the latter of which succeeded the government-publishing agency upon its privatisation. Academic works, such as doctorial theses, are often published in the universities’ own publication series.

 

Legal literature

Finnish legal literature can be searched in the Library of Parliament database Finnish legal literature search 1982-, as well as in the Library’s main database SELMA. In addition, LINDA, the Union Catalogue of Finnish University Libraries, is a good source for searching Finnish legal literature. All these databases have a search interface also in English.

Finnish legal literature is published most commonly in the Finnish language and to a certain extent in Swedish, the other official language of Finland.  Publication of academic works, law journal articles and legal monographs has increased, although the overall amount of Finnish legal literature in English remains quite modest.

 

The following books and articles describing the Finnish legal system and different areas of law are examples of Finnish legal literature published in English:

 

General:

Hollo, Erkki J. (ed.): Finnish legal system and recent development: XVIIth International Congress of Comparative Law. Helsinki, Edita, 2006.
 
Pöyhönen Juha (ed.): An introduction to Finnish law. Finnish Lawyers' Publishing, 2002.
 
Surakka, Aapo: Access to Finnish law. Porvoo; Helsinki: WSOY, 2005.
 

Business/Corporate law & Intellectual Property law:

Bruun, Niklas: Intellectual property law in Finland. Hague; London; Boston; Helsinki: Kluwer Law International: Kauppakaari, 2001.
 
Holopainen, Tuulikki (ed.): Establishing and doing business in Finland. Edita, 2009.
 
Toiviainen, Heikki:   An introduction to Finnish business law: a comprehensive survey of the foundations and main rules of Finnish corporate law. Edita, 2008. The publication is available also in electronic format in the Edilex databank.
 
Constitutional law
Husa, Jaakko: The constitution of Finland: a contextual analysis. Oxford: Hart, 2011.
 
Human rights law & Administrative law
Koto, Lassi and Viljakainen, Petteri: Age discrimination law in Europe: Finland. Article in Age discrimination law in Europe edited by Nicky Bokum  et al. Kluwer Law International ; Sold and distributed in North, Central, and South America by Aspen Publishers, cop. 2009.
 
Nykänen, Eeva et al.: Migration law in Finland. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International; Frederick MD: Sold and distributed in North, Central and South America by Aspen Publishers, 2011.
 
Procedural law:
Ervasti, Kaijus: Conflicts before the courts and court annexed mediation in Finland. Scandinavian studies in law. 51 (2007), p. 185-200
 
Ervo, Laura (ed.): Civil justice in Finland. Tokyo: Jigakusha, 2009.
 
Niemi-Kiesiläinen, Johanna: Civil procedure in Finland. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law International; Frederick, MD: Sold and distributed in North, Central and South America by Aspen Publishers, 2010.
 
Sarvilinna, Sami: Court administration in Finland. Scandinavian studies in law 51 (2007), p. 591-605.
 
Labour law:
Suviranta, Antti Johannes: Labour law in Finland / by Antti Johannes Suviranta. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2000.
 
Äimälä, Markus et. al.: Finnish labour law in practice. Helsinki WSOYpro, 2009.
 
Tax law:
Helminen, Marjaana: Finnish international taxation. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law, 2009.