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Constitutional Rights and Finnish Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure

  • Raimo Lahti


The constitutional aspects of criminal law and criminal procedure only began to receive serious attention in Finland in the 1990s. The remarkable change in legal thinking and practice in this respect was connected to two major legislative reforms: firstly, Finland ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) in 1990 and, secondly, new provisions on fundamental (basic) rights were incorporated in the Finnish Constitution in 1995. A fully revised new Constitution of Finland was enacted in 1999 (to be entered into force on 1 March 2000), but the substance of fundamental rights and freedoms was confirmed already in the constitutional reform of 1995.

Those aspects had not, however, been completely overlooked before. Most of the relevant human rights treaties were eventually ratified in Finland (e.g., the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CCPR) and, when ratified, they were incorporated into the domestic legal order. Nevertheless, courts or administrative authorities very seldom referred to human rights treaties or constitutional rights before the late 1980s; a tradition of invoking constitutional rights in the courts was lacking. Instead, human rights treaties and constitutional rights were primarily regarded as binding the legislator.



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1 See Dworkin, Ronald, Taking Rights Seriously (Duckworth, 1977/1987) and Alexy, Robert, Theorie der Grundrechte (Baden-Baden, 1985).

2 See especially Scheinin, Martin, Human Rights in Finnish Law, summary of a doctoral dissertation (Jyväskylä, 1991).

3 See, e.g., Jyränki, Antero, “Taking Democracy Seriously. The Problem of the Control of the Constitutionality of Legislation”, in Sakslin, M., ed., The Finnish Constitution in Transition (Helsinki, 1991) 630.

4 See, e.g., Blomstedt, Yrjö, “A Historical Background of the Finnish Legal System”, in Uotila, J., ed., The Finnish Legal System (Helsinki, 1966) 723, at 19. Finland was annexed by the Russian Empire during the Napoleonic wars, but the Russian Emperor promised to uphold Norway's own Constitution and laws (inherited from Sweden, to which Finland belonged as an integral part until 1809).

5 See Pellonp, Matti, “The Implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights in Finland”, in Rosas, A., ed., International Human Rights Norms in Domestic Law (Helsinki, 1990) 4467.

6 See in more detail Scheinin, Martin, “Incorporation and Implementation of Human Rights in Finland”, in Scheinin, M., ed., International Human Rights Norms in the Nordic and Baltic Countries (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, 1996) 257294.

7 See Hannikainen, Lauri, “How to Interpret, and What to Do to, the Treaty on Aircraft Seizures with the Soviet Union”, in Finnish Yearbook of International Law (vol. II, 1991) 538558.

8 As for a compilation of the provisions on the basic rights, Constitutional Laws of Finland, The Parliament of Finland, et al. (Helsinki 1996).

9 So Scheinin, in International Human Rights Norms in the Nordic and Baltic Countries, supra n. 6, at 276.

10 See, e.g., Jyränki, in The Finnish Constitution in Transition, supra n. 3, at 14.

11 See especially Olsson, Curt, “Om lagprövning” [Judicial review], vol. 130 (1994) Tidsskrift utgiven af Juridiska Föreningen i Finland 443503.

12 See generally Lahti, Raimo, “Recodifying the Finnish Criminal Code of 1889: Towards a More Efficient, Just and Humane Criminal Law”, (1993) 27 Is. L.R. 101117. See also Lahti, Raimo and Nuotio, Kimmo, eds., Criminal Law Theory in Transition - Strafrechtstheorie im Umbruch (Finnish Lawyers' Publishing Company, Helsinki, 1992) passim

13 Regarding this discussion in general, see Lahti, Raimo, “The Rule of Law and Finnish Criminal Law Reform”, (19951996) 37 Acta Juridica Hungarica 251258, at 255.

14 See also Lahti, Raimo, “Article 11”, in Alfredsson, A. and Eide, A., eds., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Kluwer Law International, 1999) 239249, at 245.

15 See FCC 21:13: “A person who intentionally or through gross negligence places another in serious danger of losing his/her life or health, shall be sentenced, unless the same or a more severe penalty for the act is provided elsewhere in the law, for imperilment to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years”.

16 See Colvin, E., “Criminal Law and The Rule of Law”, in Fitzgerald, P., ed., Crime, Justice and Codification (Carswell, Toronto, 1986) 125152, at 135.

17 See especially Delmas-Marty, Mireille, “The European Union and Penal Law”, (1998) 4 Eur. L.J. 87115, at 100.

18 Compare Decision 53/1993 (X.13) of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, where individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity was established irrespective of their punishability under domestic law, but was based on the general cogency of the relevant international law.

19 See especially Nuutila, Ari-Matti, “The Reform of Fundamental Rights and the Criminal Justice System in Finland”, (19951996) 37 Acta Juridica Hungarica 303314, and Nuotio, Kimmo, “The Difficult Task of Drafting Law on Principles”, 287301.

20 See, e.g., Statement No. 23 of the Parliamentary Select Committee, 1997 Parliament Session, when dealing with the Government Bill (No. 6/1997) on the offences against the judiciary, public authority and public order as well as on sexual offences.

21 See especially the doctoral theses of Nuutila, Ari-Matti, Rikosoikeudellinen huolimattomuus, (Helsinki, 1996) (German Summary: Fahrl'ssigkeit als Verhaltensform und als Schuldform), and Nuotio, Kimmo, Teko, vaara, seuraus (Helsinki, 1998) (German Summary: Handlung, Gefahr, Erfolg).

22 See, e.g., Eskeland, Stäle, “Criminal Law and the International Human Rights”, in Snare, A., ed., Beware of Punishment, Scandinavian Studies in Criminology (vol. 14, 1995) 204221. According to Eskeland (at 220), international human rights permit an offensive and not only a defensive criminal policy.

23 See, e.g., Backman, Eero, “Rechtsstaat und Strafrecht”, in Lahti, R. and Nuotio, K., eds., Towards a Total Reform of Finnish Criminal Law (Helsinki, 1990) 720.

24 See especially Träskman, P.O., “Reform Movements in Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Human Rights in Finland”, (1993) 64 Internationale de Droit Pénal (RIDP) 10631087, and Niemi-Kiesiläinen, Johanna, “Perusoikeudet rikosprosessissa” [Basic rights in criminal procedure] in Nieminen, L., ed., Perusoikeudet Suomessa [Basic rights in Finland] (Helsinki, 1999) 149175.

25 See also Träskman, supra n. 24, at 1080-1083.

26 See, e.g., Nuotio, Acta Juridica Hungarica (1995-1996), supra n. 19, at 291 and 301, and, from the point of view of legal philosophy, Aarnio, Aulis, The Rational as Reasonable (D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, 1987) passim. See also Hirvonen, Ari, “The Rule of Justice and the Ethical Limits of Criminal Law”, Acta Juridica Hungarica (19951996) 221229, who prefers to speak about the rule of justice (instead of ‘rule of law’).

27 See Tuori, Kaarlo, “Oikeustiede 2000” (Summary: Legal Science in the Year 2000), (1998) 96 Lakimies [Journal of Finnish Lawyers' Association] 1002–1013, 1213.

28 See Delmas-Marty, (1998) European L.J. supra n. 17, at 96-97.

29 See more e.g., Lahti, Raimo, “Towards an International and European Criminal Policy?”, in Tupamäki, M., ed., Liber Amicorum Bengt Broms (Helsinki, 1999) 222240, at 235–239, and Albrecht, Peter-Alexis and Braum, Stefan, “Deficiencies in the Development of European Criminal Law”, (1999) 5 Eur. L.J. 293310.

30 See in more detail, Neuwahl, N. and Rosas, A., eds., The European Union and Human Rights (Dordrecht, Martinus Nijhoff, 1995) passim.

31 See generally Van den Wyngaert, Christine, “The Transformations of International Criminal Law in Response to the Challenge of Organized Crime, General Report”, (1999) 70 133221. See also the corresponding Resolution IV of the XVIth International Congress on Penal Law, adopted on 11 September 1999 in Budapest; RIDP, vol. 70, 1999, pp. 907-913.

32 See, e.g., Dugard, John and Van den Wyngaert, Christine, “Reconciling Extradition with Human Rights”, (1998) 92 Am. J. Int'l L. 187212.

33 See Van den Wyngaert, supra n. 31, at 149.

* University of Helsinki, Finland.

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Constitutional Rights and Finnish Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure

  • Raimo Lahti


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