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A dispute may, if desired, be submitted for consideration by a court regardless of whether an out-of-court service is used to resolve it. The use of out-of-court services is not compulsory in any situation. Use of such services can, however, be advantageous in obtaining prompt resolution of a matter.
One of the requirements of judicial proceedings in civil matters is that courts must establish whether a matter can be resolved amicably. That requirement is provided for in Chapter 5, Section 26 of the Code of Procedure.
There is also a special Act in preparation under which the courts would be able, without being subject to formal requirements, to resolve civil matters regardless of whether legal proceedings were already pending.
In Finland the parties may conduct all their legal matters themselves without a lawyer or counsel. That is true of the alternative methods of resolution set out in this document and of legal proceedings in court. Nevertheless the nature of a matter may mean that a lawyer or counsel needs to be used in order to obtain expert legal knowledge.
Out-of-court dispute resolution can be achieved using the three groups of procedures set out in greater detail below.
Advisory services offered to nationals may include assistance in concluding an agreement necessary to resolve disputes between the parties, for example assistance in readjusting debt. Some services are statutory services, such as the Financial and Debt Advice Service, and some are voluntary services provided by various organisations.
Specialist arbitration services are also available. The aim of arbitration is to bring the parties’ points of view closer together and to help them resolve a dispute from their own baselines. A settlement may be based on what is reasonable to the parties rather than what the outcome would have been had the law been applied. One arbitration service worthy of note is the settlement on the custody of children, visiting rights and maintenance, which takes the form of an agreement between the parents; such an agreement can, if required, be initiated with the help of a social worker, who can also ensure that the agreement is complied with.
The Finnish Bar Association provides arbitration as a commercial service conducted by lawyers.
Another method of dispute resolution which is available is one whereby a recommendation for resolving the dispute is made. The recommendation is based chiefly on the law in force. The most significant example of this procedure is the resolution of consumer disputes at the Consumer Complaints Board. There are official statutory bodies which use this method, such as the Consumer Complaints Board, but other bodies also exist, such as the Finnish Insurance Complaints Board for insurance contracts, which have been established on a voluntary basis.
The Local Authority Consumer Advice Service is a statutory advice service which local authorities have a legal duty to provide.
The service provides general information and personal advice on matters which have a bearing on decisions in consumer matters and on the position of the consumer; it also assists consumers in individual disputes between consumers and businesses. In disputes of this kind the Consumer Advice Service can clarify the matter between the consumer and the business and can endeavour to point the way to an amicable settlement; where necessary, the Advice Service can point the consumer towards the appropriate body for legal redress.
Consumer advice may be sought from the Consumer Advice Centre in the district where the consumer lives. Cross-border matters are referred to the Helsinki Consumer Advice Centre.
If the matter cannot be resolved using the advice method, a recommendation for a resolution can be sought from an outside body. Two such bodies exist: the Consumer Complaints Board and the Insurance Complaints Board. They cover the whole country.
The main task of the Consumer Complaints Board is to make recommendations on differences of opinion between businesses and consumers in individual matters concerning contracts for consumer goods or in other matters relating to the acquisition of consumer goods which consumers have submitted to the Board for consideration. A typical situation is where a consumer considers that there is a defect in the goods he has purchased and the business disagrees.
The Consumer Complaints Board uses a written procedure. The party responding to the complaint is asked to reply to the application unless the complaint is considered to be manifestly without foundation. An attempt to reach a settlement may be made at the preparatory stage and can be submitted in the form of a suggested settlement. It is also clear from Section 6 of the Consumer Complaints Board Act that the role of the Board is to complement redress through the courts; Section 6 states that the Board may not resolve matters which are pending before a court or have been resolved by a court.
There is no charge for consideration of a matter at the Consumer Complaints Board. The parties are liable for the costs they incur as a result of a matter being under consideration by the Consumer Complaints Board. The Housing Division of the Board may however, on special grounds, recommend that the respondent’s costs should be paid.
The Consumer Complaints Board publishes its decisions and they are important to consumers and businesses insofar as the application of the law is concerned.
Disputes concerning non-compulsory insurance contracts and compensation payments made under such contracts are considered by the Insurance Complaints Board. Its activity is based on the contractual arrangements of insurance companies and is paid for by them. The way the Board handles matters is organised along the same lines as those of the Consumer Complaints Board.
Agreements between an individual and his creditors may be able to be renegotiated by the Financial and Debt Advice Service. The adjustment of an individual’s debts may also involve agreements to resolve disputes.
The Financial and Debt Advice Service is a statutory national service. The service gives individuals information and advice on managing their finances and debts. Where necessary, it assists in financial management planning and explains possible ways for a debtor to resolve his financial problems. The debtor is also given assistance in reaching an agreement with creditors on debt readjustment.
Where necessary, a client is also given assistance on how to conduct debt adjustment matters, particularly as regards drafting a petition for debt adjustment and the other reports and documents required under the Act on the Adjustment of the Debts of a Private Individual (57/1993) ; the debtor is also directed to seek legal assistance where necessary.
An individual applies to the Service in his district of residence.
Key information on the Finance and Debt Advice Service can be found on the National Consumer Administration web site.
Arbitration on Family Matters is carried out chiefly within social services. It is therefore a public service. Individuals can apply for the service at the social services centre in the district where they live.
The objective may simply be a social goal such as achieving a balance in family life or it may be to make legal arrangements when agreeing on custody of children, visiting rights and maintenance, for example.
In situations such as parents separating, it is important to make arrangements for the custody and maintenance of children, particularly in the eyes of the children themselves. The arrangements may take the form of an agreement between the parents which the Social Welfare Board endorses. Pursuant to the Custody of Children and Visiting Rights Act an agreement as to custody and visiting rights will be endorsed if it is in the child’s interests and in line with the child’s own wishes. Pursuant to the Child Maintenance Act, endorsement of a maintenance agreement requires the agreement to make sufficient provision for the child. In practice the social welfare authorities help parents to reach an agreement on these matters. An endorsed agreement is enforced as if it were a non-appealable judgment.
In practice the majority of legal arrangements relating to child custody, visiting rights and maintenance are administered under agreements endorsed by the Social Welfare Board. About 38 000 custody agreements are endorsed by social services annually.
The law states that the principal procedure to be used to enforce decisions relating to the custody of a child and visiting rights is arbitration. That means that generally a court has to determine the arbitrator or arbitrators who will have the task of promoting cooperation between the parties involved to ensure the welfare of the child in the manner set out in the decision. Recommendations for enforcement are also administered by Social Service.
Arbitration in criminal matters is carried out in most municipalities. Such matters involve the person suspected of committing the crime and the victim meeting each other through an arbitrator and discussing making good what has happened. Compensation for damage resulting from the offence may also be dealt with and an agreement reached.
This activity is voluntary for the time being. The initiative to go to arbitration may come from the parties involved, the police, the prosecution or the social welfare authorities. There is currently discussion of putting the service on a statutory footing and extending it nationwide.
Further information on arbitration in criminal matters is available on the court system website.
A recommendation on the resolution of liability issues in health care services can be sought from the Patient Injury Board. The procedure is set out on the Board’s website.
Differences of opinion on compensation to be paid under compulsory motor vehicle insurance to cover damage to others arising as a result of driving a motor vehicle are dealt with by the Motor Vehicle Insurance Board. It can give an opinion or a recommendation on a matter. Information on the Board’s operation can be found here.
A dissatisfied user of a legal service for which a fee has been paid may submit a claim for compensation which will be examined under the internal procedure of the Finnish Bar Association. Guidelines on that procedure can be found on this page. The procedure is not compulsory and an equally good route may be to submit the matter to the Consumer Complaints Board for their consideration or to go directly to court.
Last update: 28-06-2005