The legal system originated during the period of
rule, and portions of the Swedish General Code of 1734
extant in Finnish law even in the late 1980s. The
court of appeals was established at Turku in 1634. The
division of the Finnish courts into two main
courts, dealing with civil suits and criminal cases, and
administrative courts, regulating the actions of the
bureaucracy--also dates from this time. This division was
formalized in 1918 when two sections of the Senate, the
had governed Finland during the period of Russian rule,
the newly independent country's two highest courts. The
Department of Justice became the Supreme Court, and part
Senate Finance Department was the basis of the Supreme
Administrative Court. The two court systems are entirely
separate, and they have no jurisdiction over one another.
establishment of the two courts was confirmed by the
Act of 1919. Overseeing the system of justice are the
of justice--the country's highest guardian of the law and
chief prosecutor--and the parliamentary ombudsman.
two officials have largely parallel functions and each is
required to submit an annual report of his activities to
parliament, the former is appointed for life by the
is a member of the Council of State, whereas the latter is
for a four-year term by the Eduskunta. Both officials
complaints from citizens about the conduct of civil
on their own may investigate all public officials and may
prosecutors to proceed against them. The chancellor of
supervises public prosecutors, and he also has the
right to investigate private persons. Both officials may
either of the high courts for assistance.
The High Court of Impeachment may be convened for cases
dealing with illegal official acts by cabinet ministers,
of the two supreme courts, or the chancellor of justice.
of this court, used only three times since its formation
are the chief judges of the two supreme courts and the six
of appeal, a professor of law from the University of
and six representatives from the Eduskunta.
As in the other countries of Nordic Europe, there is no
constitutional court. Issues dealt with by a court of this
elsewhere are handled by the Eduskunta's Constitutional
, this ch.).
According to Article 5 of the Constitution Act, all
equal before the law, and Article 13 of the same act
that they may be tried only in a court of their own
No temporary courts are permitted. Legislation passed in
provides for free legal assistance to those in need as
for free court proceedings in a number of courts. Trials
courts are usually open to the public. Records of trials
higher courts are made public.
Judges are appointed for life, with retirement set at
seventy, and they may be removed only for serious cause.
exception of some lay judges in circuit courts and in some
courts, all judges hold legal degrees from one of the
three law schools. The judiciary in the late 1980s was a
closed profession, and only judges for administrative
occasionally selected from outside its ranks.
Defendants have no obligation to employ an attorney for
defense in a Finnish court, and may represent themselves
represented by another layman rather than by a lawyer.
Nevertheless, in most cases heard in general courts and in
argued in administrative courts, trained legal specialists
The general court system handles criminal cases and
suits and has three levels: lower courts, courts of
the Supreme Court. There are two kinds of lower courts:
courts, numbering 30 in the entire country; and circuit
totaling 147 in 71 judicial districts. Town courts consist
three judges, all trained professionals except in some
towns. One of these judges is the chief judge chosen by
Supreme Court; the others are selected by local
Decisions are made on a collegial basis. Circuit courts
of a judge, chosen by the Supreme Court, and five to seven
judges, i.e., persons without legal training, chosen by
authorities for a term of four years. Decisions on cases
courts of this type are made by the professional judge,
is overruled by the unanimous vote of the lay members of
court. Larger cities also have housing courts that deal
Appeals from lower courts are addressed to the six
appeal located at Helsinki, Turku, Vaasa, Kouvola, Kuopio,
Rovaniemi. Most cases at these courts are heard by
three-judge panels; more important cases are tried before
plenary session of judges if the chief judge so decides.
involving senior government officials, a court of appeals
serve as the court of first instance. Judges of the courts
appeal are appointed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, located in Helsinki, consists of a
justice, or a president, and twenty-one judges usually
five-judge panels. It hears cases involving appeals of
of appellate courts where serious errors are alleged to
occurred, or where important precedents might be involved.
sentence from a court of appeals may go into effect
despite an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it may be
while the case is pending if the Supreme Court so decides.
chief justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the
president, and the other judges of that court are
the president on the recommendation of the Supreme Court.
The administrative courts system consists of twelve
courts, one in each of the country's twelve provinces, and
Supreme Administrative Court, located in Helsinki. All
administrative courts are professionals, appointed in the
manner as judges who sit in general courts. Judges work in
threejudge panels at the provincial level and in five-judge
the Supreme Administrative Court. When appropriate, the
meets in plenary sessions to hear especially important
Administrative courts deal with appeals against
administrative decisions by government agencies, although
cases appeals are directed to higher administrative levels
the government. About 80 percent of the cases of the
courts involve appeals of government tax decisions; the
deal with questions relating to construction, welfare,
and local government. The Supreme Administrative Court
appeals of county court and central government board
that affect, or are affected by, administrative law. About
percent of the cases heard in the Supreme Administrative
involve questions about taxes.
Finland also has special courts to handle civil cases;
of these courts render judgments from which there is no
The four land courts settle disputes about the division of
and their decisions may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
from the insurance court, which handles social insurance
also may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Cases that
water use are dealt with in the three water courts, and
appealed first to the water court of appeals and from
the Supreme Court. If the case involves water permits,
to the Supreme Administrative Court. Decisions of the
and the marketing court may not be appealed. The former
disputes about collective bargaining agreements in either
public or the private sector. Its president and vice
are lawyers; its remaining members come from groups
labor and management. The marketing court regulates
about consumer protection and unfair competition.
Data as of December 1988