In Finland, the judicial organisation has two main lines: the administrative courts on one hand and the civil and criminal courts on the other.
The Supreme Administrative Court is the court of last instance in administrative cases and the Supreme Court in civil and criminal cases. The Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Court oversee the application of the law within their own purviews and may also deliver opinions and make proposals in matters of legislation.
In the field of administrative jurisdiction, the regional administrative courts are the courts of first instance. However, cases relating to competition law, public procurement, intellectual property rights and certain other areas of law are concentrated in the Market Court, and cases relating to pensions and certain social security benefits in the Insurance Court. Decisions of the regional administrative courts as well as the Market Court may be challenged in the Supreme Administrative Court. The Insurance Court is the final instance in its field of law.
In the field of civil and criminal jurisdiction, the district courts are the courts of first instance and the courts of appeal the second instance. Decisions of the courts of appeal may be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Outside these two main lines of judiciary are the Labour Court and the High Court of Impeachment. The Labour Court has jurisdiction over disputes relating to employment collective agreements and the High Court of Impeachment addresses charges of misconduct by certain highest officials.
1918: The Supreme Administrative Court is established
1950: General right to appeal against an administrative decision is confirmed in legislation
1955: First instance administrative jurisdiction is entrusted to county administrative courts; county administrative courts operate in connection with the county administration
1989-1990: The county administrative courts are separated from the county administration and transformed into independent first instance courts, the regional administrative courts
1996: The Administrative Judicial Procedure Act codifies and compiles the procedural rules in the field of administrative jurisdiction
The qualifications of Justices in the Supreme Administrative Court and judges in the lower courts, as well as the criteria of their appointment are based on the Courts Act.
According to the Courts Act, to be appointed as a judge, the candidate must be a Finnish citizen with integrity who has a Master’s degree in law other than a Master’s degree in international and comparative law, and who by his earlier service in court or in another position has demonstrated that he has the knowledge of the field in question and the necessary personal characteristics required for successful performance of the duties of the position to be filled. The candidate shall also have an excellent ability to speak and write in the language of the majority of the population in the judicial district in question and: (1) in a monolingual court, a satisfactory ability to understand and speak the other language; (2) in a bilingual court, a satisfactory ability to speak and write in the other language.
To be appointed as the President or Justice of the Supreme Administrative Court, the candidate must additionally be an eminent legal expert. In addition, the President of the Supreme Administrative Court shall have leadership skills.
Certain other requirements apply to e.g. judicial positions requiring specific technical knowledge.
Constitution of Finland
Act on the Supreme Administrative Court
2.2.1. General organisation of the administrative jurisdictional order
Is administrative justice rendered by specialized courts or by specialized chambers set within jurisdictions with a general competence? Does the administrative jurisdiction include several levels of jurisdiction (first instance, appeal, cassation)? Are there specialized administrative courts?
The Supreme Administrative Court is the court of last instance in the field of administrative justice, and the regional administrative courts are the courts of first instance. However, in the field of competition law, public procurement, intellectual property rights and certain other areas of law the Market Court is the court of first instance. Cases relating to pensions and certain social security benefits are concentrated in the Insurance Court, which is also the last instance in these cases.
As a rule, the administrative courts have general jurisdiction in all administrative law cases (with the exception of cases which fall into the jurisdiction of the Market Court or the Insurance Court). However, certain cases are concentrated into one or several administrative courts (e.g. cases relating to environmental protection and water law and to value added tax are concentrated into one administrative court, and asylum cases into four administrative courts).
The decisions of the regional administrative courts as well as the Market Court may be challenged in the Supreme Administrative Court. The Insurance Court is the final instance in its field of law.
2.2.2. Internal organisation of administrative courts and composition of the bench of judges
Are administrative courts organized in chambers or divisions? Are these chambers or divisions specialized? Are there several degrees of formation of the court (single judge, collegiate panels with three, five ... judges, full court)?
The Supreme Administrative Court is currently divided into three chambers, with each chamber focusing on distinct categories of cases. The first chamber handles, among others, cases concerning building and planning, and environment as well as international protection (asylum); the second chamber cases concerning taxation, trade licenses, transport and communication as well as residence permits; and the third chamber cases concerning social welfare, health care, competition and public procurement.
In the Supreme Administrative Court most cases are decided by a composition of five Justices after a presentation of the case by a Referendary. Also, other compositions are possible:
- three Justices (request for leave to appeal and certain matters concerning admissibility)
- two Justices (request for leave to appeal in a case concerning international protection)
- one Justice (order prohibiting the execution of a decision in matters concerning aliens and taxation)
Fundamentally important cases are decided by at least seven Justices (all Justices in the Chamber responsible for the case) or, exceptionally, by the Full Court.
In some cases, the composition is supplemented with two Expert Counsellors (certain matters relating to environment) or Chief Engineering Counsellor (matters concerning patents).
The administrative courts are also divided into divisions, focusing on distinct categories of cases. The amount of divisions and the distribution of work between the divisions vary between the administrative courts.
2.2.3. Do administrative courts have advisory powers (advice to the administration, government, parliament, etc.)?
No, the administrative courts do not give advice to the administration. However, in matters of legislation, the courts – the Supreme Administrative Court in particular – may deliver publicly available expert opinions, upon request by the Parliament or the Ministry. The Supreme Administrative Court may also make proposals in matters of legislation.
2.2.4. Tools and documentary resources available to judges
Electronic case management system
Electronic databases for legislation, travaux préparatoires, case law and other legal information
Electronic databases for legal literature
Extensive private libraries in the courts
Professional information service in the Supreme Administrative Court and certain other courts
How is the recruitment of judges organised (competitive exam, political appointment, peer election…)? What are their statutory guarantees while in office, particularly in terms of independence?
In Finland, judges are appointed by the President of the Republic. Except for the Justices of the highest courts, the appointment decision is based on a motion put forward by the Minister of Justice, as advised by the Judicial Appointments Board (an independent board responsible for preparing the appointments in the judiciary, composed of representatives from the judiciary, the Bar Association, the prosecutor organization and the university). Justices of the highest courts – the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court – are appointed by the President of the Republic based on a motion put forward by those courts themselves via the Minister of Justice.
The appointments of judges are not political; they are based on proposals made by the highest courts themselves or the independent Judicial Appointments Board.
Judges are appointed for life (until the age of retirement). According to the Constitution of Finland, judges have the right to remain in office. A judge shall not be suspended from the office except by a judgement of a court of law.
What kind of petition may applicants file before administrative courts? May applicants only request the invalidation of an administrative act? May administrative courts rule on compensatory claims?
The applicant may file an appeal against an administrative decision, requesting the decision to be quashed or amended. In certain cases, the case is brought to the first instance court with a motion made by the competent authority (e.g. a motion to place a child under public custody or a motion by the competition authority to impose a fine for competition law infringement).
The administrative courts are not courts of cassation; instead, they have in many cases extensive reformatory powers to amend the decision under appeal (please refer to Section 4.1 below). The same applies to the Supreme Administrative Court.
The administrative courts may not rule on damages claims. In certain areas of law, the administrative courts may award compensatory payments (e.g. compensatory payment awarded by the Market Court for a faulty public procurement procedure or compensation ordered by the administrative court for water pollution).
Are there any emergency procedures available before administrative courts? In the affirmative, do they cover the whole field of administrative law or do they concern only specific areas of administrative action (individual freedoms, public procurement, etc.)?
The Supreme Administrative Court and other administrative courts have the power to decide on interim measures in any case falling into their jurisdiction. When an appeal has been lodged, the appellate authority may prohibit the execution of the decision, order a stay or issue another order relating to the execution of the decision.
What are the rules governing the conduct of litigation before administrative courts? What are the guarantees offered to litigants? What are the principles governing the relationship between judges and litigants?
The Constitution of Finland and the Administrative Judicial Procedure Act govern the conduct of litigation before the administrative courts. Accordingly, all the procedural safeguards and principles enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights apply to the litigation in the administrative courts.
In the field of administrative jurisdiction, the scope of review is more extensive than in civil and criminal courts. As a rule, the appellate authority is responsible for reviewing the matter and shall, on its own initiative, obtain evidence in so far as the impartiality and fairness of the procedure and the nature of the case require. Where necessary, the appellate authority shall inform the party or the administrative authority that made the decision of the additional evidence that needs to be presented.
In relation to which norm (regulations, laws, international conventions, constitution ...) do administrative judges control administrative acts? Are they competent to control the conformity of laws and regulations with the Constitution (constitutional judicial review)? Are they competent to control the conformity of laws and regulations with international treaties (judicial review of international law)?
The administrative courts review the legality of administrative decisions. The legality is reviewed in relation to all applicable legislation, e.g. the Constitution and other national legislation, relevant EU law and international conventions.
The courts are not empowered to repeal legislative acts. However, if the application of an Act would be in evident conflict with the Constitution, the court of law shall give primacy to the provision in the Constitution. In practice, the same applies to the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, since the rights safeguarded by the convention are also enshrined in the Constitution.
Furthermore, if a provision in a Decree or another statute of a lower level than an Act conflicts with the Constitution or another Act, it shall not be applied by a court of law or by any other public authority.
May administrative judges control all acts taken by the administration? Are certain acts exempted from this control?
The Constitution requires that all use of public powers be based on law. As a rule, anyone who is dissatisfied with an administrative decision pertaining to his or her rights or obligations may challenge the lawfulness of the decision before an administrative court. However, certain exceptions apply (e.g. decisions of the President of the Republic).
Which degree of control is used by administrative judges? Does this degree of control vary according to the nature of the challenged act and/or the margin of appreciation left to the administration?
The administrative courts review the legality of administrative decisions. In certain areas of law, the legislation gives the competent authorities certain margin of discretion (e.g. permissions in environmental legislation, regulation of energy markets and telecommunications as well as competition law), which they may lawfully use.
When judges disagree with a ruling, are they allowed to express a dissenting opinion? In the affirmative, may they express it in all cases?
Yes, the judges are allowed to express a dissenting opinion in all cases.
Are there alternative dispute resolution methods? Please specify.
In the field of administrative law, there are not alternative dispute resolution methods e.g. in the form of mediation or arbitration.
3.8. Digitised procedures
Is there a specific digital procedure for the submission of claims?
The administrative and special courts offer a so-called e-service which provides a secure way to communicate with the courts. Private persons, companies and corporations may use the e-service to submit appeals, applications and documents to courts. In turn, the courts may send decisions, requests and other documents via the e-service.
A new electronic case management system including a comprehensive service platform also for the applicants is currently being prepared. It is estimated that the new system will be taken in use in 2019.
May judges amend administrative acts by substituting their own analysis to that of the administration or may they only invalidate them? May they compel the administration to act in a specific way (power of injunction, penalties)?
The Supreme Administrative Court and the regional administrative courts are not courts of cassation. Instead, they have in many cases extensive reformatory powers to amend the decision under appeal. They assess both questions of law and fact.
In practice, the scope of reformatory powers depends on the subject matter of the case. For instance, in a case concerning an environmental permit, the court may annul the permit decision or amend the permit conditions; whereas in a case concerning public procurement, the court may only annul the award decision but not to amend it (for example by deciding to award the public contract to another tenderer). Also, in cases concerning self-government of the municipalities, the administrative court may only annul the decision, not to change or amend the decision.
The administrative courts have the power to order injunctions.
To whom do decisions rendered by administrative judges apply (absolute effect – erga omnes - of res judicata, relative effect of res judicata)? What criterion is used to choose between these two options?
In many areas of administrative law, the effects of court decisions, and those of the authorities, do not limit to the parties of the case. For instance, a decision concerning planning, land use or an environmental permit usually has legal effects to persons who are not directly involved in the case.
Usually the decisions of the administrative courts do not have an absolute legal effect of res judicata. For instance, a negative court decision on a planning permit does not prevent the applicant from applying the same permit afresh. Obviously, the earlier negative decision is very likely to affect in practice the outcome of the new process, if the circumstances have remained essentially unchanged.
May rulings of administrative courts be challenged? What is the time limit for appeal? Before which authorities / jurisdictions can these rulings be challenged?
Yes, the decisions of the regional administrative courts as well as the Market Court may be challenged by appealing to the Supreme Administrative Court. Usually the time limit for appeal is 30 days from the service of the lower court’s decision.
The amount of incoming, decided and pending cases in the Supreme Administrative Court over the last five years is shown in the diagram:
The average length of proceedings in the Supreme Administrative Court in 2017 was 6,7 months, varying significantly in different case categories (e.g. average length in matters concerning aliens was 2,9 months, whereas average length in matters concerning economic activities and self-government was over 14 months).
The Supreme Administrative Court has 21 permanent judges (the President and 20 Justices). There may also be a few temporary Justices.
5.3. Economic and financial data (budget, etc.)
The annual budget of the Supreme Administrative Court has typically varied between EUR 10 million and EUR 12 million.
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