Judges are members of an independent judiciary. There are positions in the various instances of the judiciary in the Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal and District Courts, the Supreme Administrative Court and Administrative Courts as well as the Insurance Court, the Labour Court and the Market Court. Judges are State officials and cannot be removed from office. A judge shall not be suspended from office, except by a judgement of a court of law. In addition, a judge shall not be transferred to another office without his or her consent.
The applicant must be a righteous Finnish citizen who has earned a Master’s degree in law (oikeustieteen kandidaatti) and who by his or her previous activity in a court of law or elsewhere has demonstrated the professional competence and the personal characteristics necessary for successful performance of the duties inherent in the position. The Presidents and Justices of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court must be eminent legal experts. In addition, the Presidents of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court as well as the Head Judges of other courts of law must have leadership skills. Each judge must take the judge’s oath before taking office.
Court training is a useful merit but not a prerequisite for lawyers aspiring to be judges. Those with a Master’s degree in law (oikeustieteen kandidaatti) may apply for court training in a District Court where they will act as trainees (notaari) for a term of one year. In Finland, court trainees carry out certain tasks of permanent judges. After court training, the person may apply for the honorary title of varatuomari (Master of Laws with court training).
The judges are appointed to office by the President of the Republic. Before this, an independent Judicial Appointments Board shall prepare and make a reasoned proposal on an appointment to a position in the judiciary and deliver it to the Government to be presented to the President of the Republic.
The competence of the Judicial Appointments Board includes, for example, the proposals on an appointment to the following positions: President of a Court of Appeal, Senior Justice of a Court of Appeal and Justice of a Court of Appeal, Chief Judge of an Administrative Court and Administrative Court Judge as well as Chief Judge of a District Court and District Judge. The competence of the Judicial Appointments Board does not include the proposals on the appointment to the following positions: Presidents and Justices of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. The Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court shall make a reasoned proposal on an appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court or the Supreme Administrative Court, respectively, and deliver it to the Government to be presented to the President of the Republic.
The Judicial Appointments Board is set by the Government for a term of five years at a time. The members of the Board represent the judiciary, the public prosecution service, the advocacy and the research and teaching of law. The Supreme Court shall nominate the chair and the Supreme Administrative Court shall nominate the vice-chair. Only a Finnish citizen can be appointed to a position in the judiciary.
In the District Courts of Finland, judicial offices are held not only by legally qualified judges, but also by laymen, ”Lay Judges”. Lay Judges mainly participate in the hearing of criminal cases. The composition with Lay Judges can also be used for example in some civil matters. Each Lay Judge has an individual vote in the court.
A Lay Judge must be a Finnish citizen and resident within the judicial district of the District Court. A Lay Judge must not be bankrupt or under guardianship, and a Lay Judge must be suitable for the position. A person younger than 25 or older than 63 cannot be elected as a Lay Judge. A Lay Judge is an impartial layperson. Hence, none of the following may serve as Lay Judges: office-holders in the general courts or the prison service, public prosecutors, advocates, enforcement officials, criminal investigators, or customs and police officers.
The municipal councils elect the Lay Judges for a term corresponding to the councils’ own term in office, i.e. four years. The rota objective is that a Lay Judge does not need to serve for more than 12 days per year. This is to allow for persons in full-time employment to serve also as Lay Judges without undue inconvenience to anyone. The Lay Judge is entitled to proper remuneration. This includes a per diem payable from State funds, as well as compensation for loss of income and travel expenses.
Prosecutors work in prosecution units. Prosecutors are State officials.
Prosecutors are trained lawyers, with a Master’s degree in law (oikeustieteen kandidaatti). In addition, most prosecutors have the honorary title of varatuomari, that is, they have completed one-year’s worth of training at a District Court. Those pursuing a prosecutorial career can gain valuable work experience by gaining entry to a Junior Prosecutor position. These positions are for fixed terms of one year; they are training and practice positions allocated in various prosecution units. The training includes practical prosecution and a final exam. Persons who have completed the training and passed the exam are qualified to apply for positions as District Prosecutors. Also those with other legal experience can become prosecutors, and in most cases, work experience of several years is required for a permanent position as a prosecutor.
It is the task of the prosecutor to see to it that an offender bears the responsibility for the criminal act. In Finland, pre-trial investigation is a task for the police. Once an investigation is completed, the prosecutor evaluates whether a criminal offence has been committed and whether there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution to be warranted. A charge must be brought, if there is a prima facie case against the suspect. However, the prosecutor has the right not to prosecute in situations specially provided for in law.
A prosecutor must be objective; he or she must take balanced note also of the proof presented in favour of a suspected criminal. A prosecutor is independent in his or her decision-making and does not act in his or her own interest in a criminal case, but instead on behalf of society, looking after the interests of both society and the defendant.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General maintains the operational conditions of the entire prosecution service as a regular central administration agency, as well as functions as the staff of the Prosecutor-General. There are State Prosecutors in the Office of the Prosecutor-General who deal with criminal matters with great significance to society. They have jurisdiction to prosecute these cases throughout the country. A State Prosecutor shall also prosecute cases that are dealt with by a Court of Appeal in the first instance.
The prosecution service is headed by the highest prosecutor, the Prosecutor-General, who is independent in the assessment of the charge being considered by him or her.
The Prosecutor-General directs and develops the prosecution service and supervises the subordinate prosecutors, appoints the prosecutors and issues general instructions and guidelines for the prosecutors. The Prosecutor-General may take over a case of a subordinate prosecutor or assign to a subordinate prosecutor a case where the Prosecutor-General has ordered a charge to be brought. The Prosecutor-General may also prosecute in the High Court of Impeachment if the Parliament decides that charges are to be brought against the President of the Republic or against a Member of the Government.
The Deputy Prosecutor-General decides the matters in his or her competence on the same authority as the Prosecutor-General and deputises for the Prosecutor-General.
Special prosecutors, such as the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice, are competent to bring charges only in given, clearly defined special cases.
Process servers act in connection with the District Courts. They do not need to be nor are they usually trained lawyers. Process servers are State officials.
If the service of notices is not successful by ordinary means, such as by post in an ordinary letter or in a letter with acknowledgement of receipt, the process server delivers the notice to the recipient in person.
Enforcement tasks are carried out by local bailiffs, that is, district bailiffs, rural police chiefs and the Åland provincial bailiff. These officials are assisted by deputy bailiffs, who are in practice in charge of most individual enforcement tasks. The enforcement offices have also clerical staff. Enforcement authorities are State officials.
The Ministry of Justice is in charge of the general management, control and supervision of the enforcement service. Also the heads of judicial administration in the State Provincial Offices have control and supervision functions relating to enforcement. For example, they deal with complaints regarding the conduct of the enforcement authorities. However, neither the Ministry of Justice nor the heads of legal administration have the power to overrule or alter an individual enforcement measure or other measure.
In Finland, enforcement is most often a matter of collecting judgement debts, and it is thus closely linked to court proceedings. In the proceedings, the validity of the creditor’s claim is investigated and a payment liability ordered on the debtor. If the judgement is not heeded voluntarily, it is carried out compulsorily, by way of enforcement. Some receivables, such as taxes and certain insurance premiums, can be enforced even in the absence of a judgement.
Also criminal sanctions of a monetary nature, such as fines and summary penal fees, are collected by way of enforcement. In addition, the enforcement authorities are charged with the carrying out of evictions, court-ordered asset seizures and court orders on child custody and right of access.
The enforcement authorities are to protect the interests of both creditors and debtors. The enforcement authorities aim for a voluntary payment after the sending of a collection letter. If no payment is forthcoming, wages, salaries, pensions or business income are garnished or assets are distrained. Distrained assets may be sold by bailiff’s auction.
In Finland, advocacy is regulated by the Advocates Act. Only lawyers who have been accepted as members of the Finnish Bar Association and who meet certain eligibility criteria are allowed to use the professional title of asianajaja or advokat. The Finnish Bar Association has approximately 1,600 advocates.
There is no monopoly on advocacy in Finland, which means that legal services can also be provided by persons other than professionally controlled lawyers. An advocate is bound by professional secrecy.
The Finnish Bar Association is in charge of the professional control of advocates, other lawyers employed in an advocate’s office as well as Public Legal Aid Attorneys. Other legal aid providers are not subject to statutory control. An advocate who does not observe the Advocates Act or the rules of proper professional conduct for advocates can, as a last resort, be disbarred from the Bar Association. The Board of the Bar Association shall keep the Roll of Advocates and a so-called EU register, and these Rolls must be kept for public inspection.
A citizen of Finland or another state within the European Economic Area, who has reached the age of 25 years, may be accepted as an advocate, if he or she is known to be honest and in respect of his or her other characteristics and way of life suitable for the profession of advocate. He or she must have passed the academic requirements stipulated in Finland for judicial office, and he or she must have acquired the skills required for practice as an advocate and work experience on advocacy tasks. He or she must not be a bankrupt and he or she must have full legal capacity.
In accordance with international commitments that have entered into force in Finland, a person who has not passed the academic requirements nor acquired the work experience required in Finland but who holds the professional qualifications of an advocate in one of the states of the European Economic Area may be accepted as an advocate. In such cases the applicant must prove, in an examination arranged by the Bar Association, that he or she has sufficient knowledge of Finnish legislation and of the practice of law in Finland.
In addition, a person who holds the professional qualifications of an advocate in a Member State of the European Union may be accepted as an advocate without an examination. Acceptance as an advocate without an examination is subject to the applicant having been registered for at least three years in the register administered by the Bar Association of advocates using the professional title of their home Member State and qualified to practise advocacy in another Member State (EU register). In addition, the person shall prove the regular pursuit of the profession of an advocate in Finland for at least that period.
Directive 98/5/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council to facilitate practice of the profession of lawyer on a permanent basis in a Member State other than that in which the qualification was obtained has been implemented in Finland by the Act Amending the Advocates Act (1249/1999).
An advocate shall honestly and conscientiously fulfil the tasks entrusted to him or her and he or she shall, at all times, observe the rules of proper professional conduct for advocates. The ethical code of conduct established by these rules is based on the personal experiences of the advocates. On one hand, they reflect the current ethics of the society and the citizens’ view on good administration of justice, and on the other hand, the advocacy’s view on the importance and value of its task and on its duties. The code of conduct shows what is required of a good advocate.
Public Legal Aid Attorneys are lawyers or advocates employed by Public Legal Aid Offices. Public Legal Aid Attorneys are State officials. They are appointed into office by the Minister of Justice
Public Legal Aid Offices are managed by the Ministry of Justice.
The requirements for eligibility for the office of Public Legal Aid Attorney are a Master’s degree in law (oikeustieteen kandidaatti) and adequate experience of advocacy or adjudication. Many Public Legal Aid Attorneys also hold the honorary title of varatuomari (Master of Laws with court training).
Public Legal Aid Attorneys are engaged in advocacy before courts of law; they are under obligation to observe the rules of proper professional conduct for advocates in their activities. In this respect, they are subject to the disciplinary powers of the Finnish Bar Association. More than half of the Public Legal Aid Attorneys in Finland are members of the Bar Association. The Public Legal Aid Attorneys are independent of any other actors in the performance of their commissions.
In Finland, the tasks of Notaries Public are regulated by law. Notaries Public are employed by Local Register Offices and Jurisdictional District Offices. The requirement for eligibility for the office of Notary Public is a Master’s degree in law (oikeustieteen kandidaatti) .
Despite many similarities, the duties of Notaries Public in Finland differ largely from the duties of Notaries in the rest of Europe and the United States. In Finland, a Notary Public is always a State official. However, Notaries Public are not full-time Notaries Public; the majority of officials carrying out the tasks of Notaries Public are District Registrars in Local Register Offices. Because of the freedom of manner of contract in civil matters, confirmation by a Notary Public is not a prerequisite for the validity of contracts in Finland. The only civil-law contract requiring notarisation in Finland is the conveyance of real property.
Notaries Public handle the notarisation of, inter alia, signatures and copies of certificates and the authentication of curricula vitae. Notaries Public can also certify with a so-called Apostille Certificate that the signatory of a given document has the position indicated in the document and that he or she is authorised to give the document.
Council Directive 89/48/EEC on a general system for the recognition of higher-education diplomas awarded on completion of professional education and training of at least three years’ duration has been implemented in Finland by the Act on the Implementation of the General System for the Recognition of Qualifications in the European Community (1597/1992) and by Government Decree on the Implementation of the General System for the Recognition of Qualifications in the European Community (520/1997).
The Act lays down provisions on the qualification for a position or task provided by the diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualifications referred to in the Community provisions on recognition as well as on the right to practice a profession in Finland.
The main rule is that when in Finland a certain level of education is imposed as the requirement for a position or task or as the condition for the right to practice a profession, evidence awarded in another country also gives the same qualification, provided that it has been defined as equivalent in the Community provisions on recognition.
In cases where education and the tasks of a profession in another country differ considerably from the corresponding education and profession in Finland, work or professional experience gained in an EU Member State or an adaptation period or an aptitude test may be required of the applicant.
Where the application concerns the qualification for a position or task requiring a Master’s degree in law (oikeustieteen kandidaatti) or a Bachelor’s degree in law (oikeusnotaari) , the applicant shall take a compulsory aptitude test. The aptitude test is arranged by the University of Helsinki.
The decision on eligibility is made by the National Board of Education based on an application.
Last update: 17-07-2007