Finnish Law on the Internet
By Sami Sarvilinna
Published February 2006
Mr. Sami Sarvilinna works as a Senior Officer for Legal Affairs in the Finnish Ministry of Justice. He holds a 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 has also a second degree from Helsinki, a 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].
Update to an article previously published on LLRX.com on January 1, 2002
Table of Contents
Sources of Law - Public Domain
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. 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 (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.
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. 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 and the Sámi language (pdf format files).
The text of the Act on the Autonomy of Åland is likewise available in English.
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 print in the Suomen säädöskokoelma, i.e. the Statute Book of Finland.
FINLEX, the data bank for the dissemination of Finnish legislation and other legal information, was established as a subscription service in the 1980s. The newest 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.
Sources of Law - Commercial
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, Talentum. This work is available also as an online version.
A more recent entry in the field of legal information service is Edilex, which contains a database of national legislation, a daily news service, law books, articles, journals and other material. Subscription is required for most of the services. Edilex is provided by Edita Publishing. Another similar service is WSOYPro, which is provided by WSOY, the largest publishing house in Finland.
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 59 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 administrative courts operate on two tiers. Firstly, there are eight 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.
A few years ago, the Ministry of Justice launched a website for the provision of general information of the judicial system in Finland. In addition to Finnish, Swedish and the Sámi language, the contents of the website are available also in English. It contains information on:
- the independent courts of law
- the prosecution service
- the enforcement authorities, who see to the enforcement of judgments
- the prison service and the probation service, who see to the enforcement of custodial sentences, and
- the Finnish Bar Association and the other avenues of legal aid.
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 this site can be accessed Bibliographia Iuridica Fennica/Legal Literature in Finland (Suomen lainopillinen kirjallisuus /Finlands juridiska litteratur / Litterature juridique de la Finlande / Legal literature in Finland) via the Jussi database which covers 1982-2001. It's online from 2001 to date via the SELMA database in English and in Finnish. See also the SELMA database main page.
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 covers also 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.
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.
Legal Education and Research
A mention is definitely in order here of a Finnish legal links site which is well worth checking out even though it is in Finnish. This site contains a comprehensive set of links to all aspects of legislation, cases, literature, teaching and other matters with a legal theme in Finland. The site is maintained by staff at the City Library of Hämeenlinna. As a matter of fact, the site is very useful for searches of Finnish websites in general as well, and not only of legal ones.
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
· 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 Joensuu,
· the Department of Law at the University of Tampere,
· the Department of Business Law and the Department of Public Law and Sociology at the University of Vaasa
· the Institute of Law at the Helsinki University of Technology.
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 University of Helsinki Faculty of Law Library and the Turku University Law Library.
Talentum, which acquired the Kauppakaari imprint a few years ago, 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.