UPDATE: Finnish Law on the Internet

By Sami Sarvilinna

Update by Erika Bergström

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 2018

(Previously updated by Erika Bergström in November/December 2008 and in November/December 2011)

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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. In 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. Finland is a bilingual country, with Finnish and Swedish enjoying the same status as official languages Detailed information on Linguistic rights is available on the Ministry of Justice website. All legislation and most important 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 frontpage.

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. The text of the constitution is available on the internet in the two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. Translations into English, German, French, Spanish, Russian and the Sámi language are also available online (Ministry of Justice website). It should, however, be noted that these translations are unofficial and not all amendments of the Constitution are included in the translations.

An unofficial translation 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 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, the electronic version of the Statute Book was made the authoritative version. 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 1980’s. As of 1997 Finlex has been 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:

4. Commercial Sources of Law and Legal Databases

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, Alma Talent Pro. 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 and preparatory work linking to Alma Talent Pro’s online legal commentaries.

Alma Talent Pro maintains Verkkokirjahylly – a comprehensive portal of legal literature. Another of their services is Fokus that contains regularly updated legal commentaries with links to legislation and case-law.

In 2008, Edita Publishing Oy 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 Oy provides for electronic monitoring of the amendments of acts published in the book. The monitoring is carried out through the Edilex online service.

Edita Publishing Oy also maintains Edilex, a comprehensive on-line legal information service. Edilex contains a database of national legislation, a daily news service, case law, articles, legal commentaries, journals and other material. Subscription is required for most of the services.

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 based on 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. There are 27 district courts in Finland In addition, there is the appellate level of five 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 six regional Administrative Courts, which deal with appeals against administrative acts. In addition, the autonomous Åland Islands have a separate administrative court, called the Administrative Court of Åland. 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:

6. Parliametary Information

Parliamentary documents, such as bills, committee reports, session minutes etc. are digitized as of the year 1907. The documents are available only in one or both of the official languages.

The Parliament of Finland website contains information and materials also in English. The website for example include an informative description of the Role of the Parliament in the Legislative Process: Parliament enacts legislation - stages in the legislative process

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 and Information on the Law-Drafting Process

The Finnish Government web service 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. The Government web service also has a dedicated English-language area where general information about the Government, the Government Programme, a selection of press releases, etc. can be accessed in English.

An informative publication describing the stages of the Finnish legislative process is available in the Finlex database also in the English language. The Legislative Drafting Process Guide provides a chronological and visual presentation of the different steps of the Finnish law-drafting process.

The Government web service Hankeikkuna provides information, documents and publications that relate to legislation under preparation. The database enables citizens to follow the law-drafting process and thereby significantly enhances the transparency of the Finnish law-drafting process. This web service is available only in the Finnish language.

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 aspects of legislation, government and judicial affairs in Finland, and offers links to relevant websites.

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. On the website there is a “Find a lawyer” service for searching attorneys and law firms, e.g. on the basis of location, specialization and language skills.

The Association of Finnish Lawyers is the general professional organization 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.

9. Legal Education and Research Institutions

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

Since 1991 the Faculty of Law at University of Helsinki has also maintained a bilingual program of legal study in Vaasa.

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

The Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy, formerly National Research Institute of Legal Policy, is a research institute at the University of Helsinki, specializing in research and monitoring of crime and legal policy in Finland

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, the Turku University Law Library and the University Library of Lapland. Further, those universities that offer education in law-related subjects also have collections of legal materials in their institutional libraries.

10. Legal Publishers and Legal Literature

Legal publishers: Alma Talent Pro is Finland’s leading publisher for legal professional literature. Other notable legal publishers are Edita Publishing, Kauppakamari and the Finnish Lawyers’ Society. Academic works, such as doctorial theses, are often published in the universities’ own publication series. Open access publishing of academic works is encouraged at universities.

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, MELINDA, the Union Catalogue of Finnish University Libraries, is a good source for searching Finnish legal literature. The service FINNA.FI gives access to the collections of Finnish archives, libraries and museums through a common search interface. All of 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 in English has increased, although the overall amount of Finnish legal literature in English remains quite modest.