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Finland, nestled between Sweden and Russia, is an EU member state characterised as a semi- presidential parliamentary representative democracy. It currently stands at a population of 5.5 million; the majority of this figure speaks either Finnish or Swedish, with the major religion being Christianity (WHO 2019). Life expectancy stands at a healthy 84 for women and 79 for men, which can most likely be accredited to the country’s renowned health care system (BBC 2019). Finland is regarded as a relatively progressive nation in terms of social and political policy, with its parliament being the first to adopt full gender equality, granting men and women not only the right to vote but also to stand for election in 1906 (ibid). There are several other key events in Finland’s 20th and 21st century history that are worth mentioning:

  • 1917 – Finland declares independence from Russia. Finnish history is subsequently heavily influenced by Russia throughout the 20th Century.
  • 1955 – Finland joins UN and Nordic Council.
  • 1995 – Finland joins EU.
  • 2000 – Finnish Constitution is created and first female President, Tarja Halonen, is


  • 2002 – Introduction of Euro.*2015 – Fraught ties between Russia return with deployment of Finnish reservists to

border amid growing concern over Russian authority in the Baltic Sea region.

  • 2016 – Finland emerges from nearly a decade long economic downturn.

In terms of the political and legal systems and structuring of Finland, the highest bodies of the state are as follows: parliament, government, president, independent courts, and central government. The central government consists of the state’s central, regional and local administration and is divided into the following:

  • 12 ministries.
  • 6 regional state administrative agencies.
  • 15 centres for economic development.
  • 11 police departments.
  • 11 local register offices.
  • 11 prosecutor offices.
  • 15 employment and economic development offices.

In governing the above, the country is divided into 19 different regions (maakunta), which themselves are divided into a further 70 sub-regions (seutukunta), which are then divided further still into 311 municipalities (kunta). In addition to these regions, there are several bodies of indirect public administration governed by public law: Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Bank of Finland, the Finnish Institution of Occupational Health, the Finnish Forest Centre, and universities. Indirect public administration governed by public law also extends to corporations, institutions, and foundations, which perform public duties by virtue of delegated legislative powers, as too is the case with private individuals exercising public power.

The division of power in Finland is akin to most semi-presidential systems. The president, currently the independent (formerly affiliated to the Conservative party) acts as head of state in a largely ceremonial role. Although this office does guide foreign policy, selects judges for the high court, and acts as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister, acts as the head of the government and the executive branch. All legislative power lies with the Parliament of Finland (Suomen eduskunta), a unicameral body containing 200 members, 199 of whom are elected every four years. The constitution of Finland vests power to both the president and the government, enabling the president a veto right, however majority within parliament may overrule this.

Finland operates under a civil law system, which is derived from Swedish law, meaning the judiciary exercises limited powers (Ministry of Justice 2013). Finnish law is codified and its court systems consist of local courts, regional appellate courts, and the supreme courts. Court proceedings are inquisitorial, with a single judge and no juries. Precedent is not binding, with the exception of Supreme Court (Korkein oikeus) and Supreme Administration Court (Korkein hallinto- oikeus) decisions. The judiciary is independent from the executive and legislative branches, and contains regular courts and administrative courts that fall under the remit of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. Despite the existence of a constitution, there is no constitutional court: constitutionality of a law can be contested only as applied to an individual court case (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland 2019). Additionally, the Constitutional Law Committee fulfills many tasks that a constitutional court would. Finnish courts are also obliged to give precedence to the constitution where there is an obvious conflict between the constitution and regular law.

The Constitution of Finland (Suomen perustuslaki) acts as the source of all national law and affords sovereignty to the people, with that power vested in the parliament (The Constitution of Finland 1999). As a result, the Constitution provides all legal defendants their rights. The state, depending on the legal matter at hand, provides public legal aid fully or partially. This coverage, however, does not extend to companies or corporations, or if legal expenses insurance covers costs (The Finnish Bar Association 2018).

In court proceedings, legal aid is offered by:

  • Public aid attorneys;
  • Members of the Bar;
  • and other lawyers.

In other matters, legal aid is provided by public legal aid attorneys, working in state legal aid offices (ibid). As of 2017, Finnish Bar Association (Suomen Asianajajaliitto) membership stood at 2,100, with 130 employed by legal aid offices and law firms hiring an additional 600 associates (ibid).

Finland is a member of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights, meaning Finnish citizens additionally derive rights from these two sources.

Pre Trial Procedures


When dealing with complaints or alleged offences committed by officers, the police are obligated to record all complaints submitted. A prosecutor will then lead subsequent investigations into suspected police malpractice. Only the prosecutor has the authority to decide whether there are grounds for suspecting an offence and whether a pre-trial investigation should take place (unless the matter refers to penal feel or penal order proceedings) (Finnish Police (Polisisi) 2019). The following are sections taken from the 2011 Police Act and 2011 Coercive Measures Act that pertain to police powers and protocol: Police Act ,Chapter 2 – General Powers Section 4: ‘The Police shall not take action that infringes anyone’s rights or causes anyone harm or inconvenience more than is necessary to carry out their duty’.

Identification Procedures:

Police Act , Chapter 2 – General Powers Section 1 – Establishing Identity: ‘[P]olice officers have the right to obtain from anyone their name, personal identity code or, if this does not exist, date of birth and nationality, and information concerning a place where they can be reached’. NB: Under Section 1, the police hold the right to apprehend anyone who does not produce the above information.

Search Laws:

Police Act, Chapter 2 – General Powers Pertaining to conducting a search to apprehend a person. Section 4: The police have the right to conduct a search of a domicile or an area in accordance with Chapter 8 of the 2014 Coercive Measures Act. The decision to search is made by the commanding officer, but this level of authority can be bypassed depending on the ‘urgency of the matter’.

Police Act – Chapter 2 Section 12 – Security searches: the police have the right to search clothing of individuals if believed to have objects or substances that ‘jeopardise their custody arrangements or to cause damage to themselves and others’.

Section 13 – Carrying out security searches: use of hands, trained dogs, metal detector, similar devices/methods are permitted. ‘The search shall not interfere with the person’s physical integrity any more than is necessary to carry out the duty’.

Frisk Laws:

Coercive Measures Act, Chapter 8 – Search Section 31 - Prerequisites for a frisk: Frisks may take place if the suspected crime is:

  • i. an ‘offence for which the most severe punishment provided is imprisonment for at least 6 months’;
  • ii. ‘petty assault’.;
  • iii. ‘petty theft, petty embezzlement, petty unauthorized use, petty stealing of a motor vehicle for temporary use, possession of burglary implement, petty alcohol offence’;
  • iv. ‘petty damage to property’;
  • v. or ‘fraud’.

Section 32 of the same chapter, concerning perquisites for a bodily search, states if an offence carries a sentence of 4 years, to determine a DNA profile, gun powder samples ‘or another corresponding test may be conducted also without the consent of a person who is not suspected of the offence in question’.

Arrest/Apprehension Laws:

Section 17: ‘[P]olice officers have the right to use force that can be considered justifiable to overcome resistance, prevent the escape of a person who has been deprived of his or her liberty, remove an obstacle or prevent an immediate risk of offence or, some other dangerous act or event’.

Section 19: ‘Firearms may be used only when it is necessary to stop the actions of person posing an immediate and serious danger to the life or health of another person and no more moderate means to do this are available’.

Section 20 – Physical restraint: Individuals can be restricted by applying handcuffs, plastic ties or other similar mean to ‘prevent fleeing, to control violent behaviour or to avert imminent violence’. However, physical restraint shall not last longer than necessary or ‘place the person in any danger or cause unnecessary pain’.

Coercive Measures Act – Chapter 1

Section 2 – Principle of Proportionality: ‘Coercive measures may be used only when they may be deemed justifiable with consideration to the seriousness of the offence under investigation, the importance of clarifying the offence, the degree to which the coercive measures infringes the rights of the suspect in the offence or others, and the other circumstances in the case’.


Coercive Measures Act, Chapter 2 – Section 1(3) – Apprehension, arrest and remand: ‘[The] official with the power to arrest shall decide, within 24 hours of the apprehension, whether the apprehended person is to be released or arrested. Continuation of the apprehension for more than 12 hours requires the existence of the prerequisites of arrest’.

Section 4 (1): ‘The person apprehended shall be informed without delay of the reason for the apprehension’. Police Act, Chapter 3

Section 3 – Obtaining information from a private organisation or person: ‘[P]olice have the right to obtain any information necessary to prevent or investigate an offence’.

Attention now turns to the rights of persons being questioned by the police and the relevant questioning procedure.

Police representatives must inform those questioned of their status in the pre-trial investigation, rights regarding presence of a witness, and language to be used in proceedings. Moreover, the police must specify the act of which a person is suspected, in addition to informing the suspected individual of their right to an attorney and how defence may be appointed (Finnish Police (Polisisi) 2019).

In addition to these requirements, the ‘police have a duty to question people in a calm and rational manner’ (ibid). There should be no us of ‘false statements, promises of fabrications concerning any special benefits, or to tire, threaten or coerce the person being questioned, or to use any other inappropriate means or methods of influencing the person’s motivation, memory or judgement, in order to extract a confession or influence the type of statement given’ (ibid). Furthermore, questioning between 10 pm and 7 am is only permitted on special grounds, such as at the request of the individual questioned.

In Finland, during the pre-trial procedure, there is no writ of habeas corpus or bail, but the maximum period of pre-trial detention has been reduced to 4 days. There is no right to a phone call, though the leading officer may inform relatives if the investigation permits this (Ministry of Justice 2019).

Rights of the Accused at All Times

Double Jeopardy:

As a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), the following applies to Finland under Article 4 of Protocol No. 7:

  • ‘No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again in criminal proceedings under the jurisdiction of the same State for an offence for which he has already been finally acquitted or convicted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of that State’.
  • ‘The provisions of the preceding paragraph shall not prevent the reopening of the case in accordance with the law and penal procedure of the State concerned, if there is evidence of new or newly discovered facts, or if there has been a fundamental defect in the previous proceedings, which could affect the outcome of the case’.
  • ‘No derogation from this Article shall be made under Article 15 of the Convention’.

Presumption of Innocence:

Equally, Article 6, paragraph 2 of the ECHR promulgates that ‘everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law’.

Capital Punishment:

The practice of state execution has been abolished since 1972, and it is further stated in the Constitution: ‘everyone has the right to life, personal liberty, integrity, and security. No one shall be sentenced to death, tortured or otherwise treated in a manner violating human dignity’.

Ex Post Facto Punishment:

In relation to ex post facto punishment, generally, the Finnish legal system does not permit this, especially when this would expand criminal responsibility. However, this form of punishment is not expressly forbidden, instead the ban is derived from more general legal principles and basic rights. Although circumstances differ for civil matters, such as taxation, where ex post facto laws may be made (Oikeus 2018).

Fair Trial Rights:

All the following points are taken from the Ministry of Justice (2018):

  • As established, pre-trial detention may not last longer than 4 days.
  • All defendants maintain the right to counsel, which may be provided by the state or privately.
  • All defendants retain the right to habeas corpus.
  • As well as retaining the right to medical care at any point during proceedings.
  • Under Article 6, paragraph 1 of the ECHR, ‘everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law’.
  • As established above, defendants must be informed of the charges made against them.
  • following the 2011 Criminal Investigation Act, suspects have the right not to contribute to the clarification of the offence in which he or she is suspected. This right is also pursuant to Article 6(1) of the ECHR, and Article 14(3)g of the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Defendants are afforded the right to a speedy trial, as the objectives of the administration of justice encompass not only a fair and reasonably cost trial but a prompt one too.
  • In Finland, trials are conducted without the presence of a jury. Instead, a single, impartial judge leads court proceedings.
  • Appeals against decisions by authorities are considered by 6 regional administrative courts, spearheaded by the Supreme Administrative Court, acting as the court of last instance.

Rights in Prison

There are two types of prisons in Finland, open prisons (18) and closed prisons (13), all of which are state funded (Lappi-Seppälä 2012).

  • Each prisoner upon arrival to a facility receives an individual enforcement plan (‘sentence plan’); these are based on the risks and needs of that particular prisoner.
  • Prisoners are obliged to work or take part in vocational training during their sentences, with open prisons providing proper taxable wages (ibid).
  • Additionally, prisons are obliged to arrange and provide rehabilitative and supportive activities, e.g. a psychologist must be provided when possible.
  • Regarding external contact, prisoners have the right to be in contact with outside world via correspondence, phone-calls, visits, and prison leaves – all prisoners are eligible for prison leave at some point of their sentence.
  • Prisoners always hold a right to medical care when necessary.



  • Ministry responsible for prisons: Ministry of Justice (Oikeusministerio)
  • Body responsible for prison administration: Criminal Sanctions Agency (Rikosseuraamuslaitos)
  • Head of prison administration: Director General Esa Vesterbacka
  • Total prison population (including pre-trial detainees/remand inmates) (2018): 2,842 Occupancy level of prisons based on capacity (2018): 91.3%
  • Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population (2018): 51
  • Percentage of prison population as pre-trial detainee and remand inmates (2018): 19.2% Female percentage of prison population (2018): 7.6%
  • Juvenile percentage of prison population: 0.1%
  • Foreign national percentage of prison population: 16.2%
  • Number of prison facilities: 26
  • Official nationwide prison capacity: 2,895 (World Prison Brief 2018)
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