Strasbourg, 12 February 2001
CCJE (2001) 23
Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)
Questionnaire on the independence of judges, their appointment and careers, and funding of the courts: reply submitted by Finland
I The Independence of Judges
1 - 3. The independence of judges is granted by the Constitution of Finland of 11 June 1999 in Section 3, subsection 3 which reads:
The judicial powers are exerciced by independent courts of law, with the Supreme Court and the Administrative Court as the highest instances,
and Section 103, which reads as follows:
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, except where the transfer is a result of a reorganisation of the judiciary.
Provisions on the duty of a judge to resign at the attainment of a given age or after losing capability to work are laid down by an Act.
More detailed provisions on the other terms of service of a judge are laid down by an Act.
4. Assuming that Presidential Pardon is not intended to be delt with in this point, the answer is no. (According to Section 105 of the Constitution the President of the Republic may, in individual cases, after obtaining a statement from the Supreme Court, grant full or partial pardon from a penalty or other criminal sanction imposed by a court of law.)
II The Appointment of Judges and their Careers
1. The qualifications for judges are laid down in an Act on appointment of judges (205/2000). According to Section 11 of that Act a person may be appointed judge, if he or she is a righteous Finnish citizen, who has earned a master’s degree in law and with his or her previous work in court or in another assignment has proved that he or she has such knowledge of the area of work that is required for a successful handling of the office in question and also posesses the personal qualifications for this. Concerning the offices for judges which require special expertice as well as the highest offices, additional or special qualifications are laid down in legislation.
2. The judges are recruited on the basis of their qualifications.
3. A prerequisite for an appointment is a master’s degree in law from a law faculty (in average 5 - 6 years of academic studies).
4. To fullfill the requirements mentioned in point 1 above court experience is needed. In practice lawyers who aim at a court career go through a training programme at a district court after their graduation from university. The training which usually consists of a full time job as clerk for a year and also includes presiding court proceedings in uncomplicated matters. There are, however, plans for a more extensive training programme in the future.
6-8. All judges are appointed.
9. A judge is always appointed among the lawyers, who explicity have applied for the office. There is no other recruiting system than this one which includes an obligatory public annoncement of any vacacy.
10. All ordinary judges are appointed by the President of the Republic. With exception of the justices of the Supreme Courts, who are appointed on a proposal by the Supreme Courts themselves, the proposal for an appointment is made by the Council of State on the basis of a proposal made by a special board founded for this purpose: the Board for Selection of Judges. The concrete comparision of the candidates’ merits is done by the Board and the proposal includes the reasons for the decision.
The composition of this Board for Selection of Judges, which is independent from the government, is the following:
- a Justice of the Supreme Court acting as chairman,
- a Justice of the Supreme Administrative Court acting as vice chairman,
- a President of a Court of Appeal
- a Chief Judge of an Administrative Court,
- a Chief Judge of a District Court,
- a Judge of a Court of Appeal
- a Judge of a District Court
- a Judge of an Administrative Court
- a Judge of an Administrative Court or a Judge of one of the specialized courts (such as the Insurance Court, the Labour Court and the Market Court)
- an advocate
- a prosecutor
- a representant for the Law faculties.
The appointment of judges are made by the courts themselves concerning judges appointed for a certain time to be substitutes for ordinary judges or to ease a temporary heavy case load in a certain court.
11. The promotion of judges takes place only by appointing a person to a vacant higher office by observing the procedure mentioned above.
12. As follows from what is said above, there are no special grounds for promotion as every promotion is a new appointment, where the best qualified person among the applicants will be chosen for the office by the Board for Selection of Judges on the general criterias already mentioned and appointed by the President on proposal of the Council of State.
13. A judge shall not be suspended from office, except by a judgement of a court of law, e.g. if he has been convicted for an offence. In addition there are provisions on the duty of a judge to resign at the attainment of the age of 67 or after losing capability to work.
14. The system of selection and appointment of judges described above entered into force 1.3.2000 at the same time as the new Constitution. Before this date the selection procedure was handled by the courts. The Supreme Court had a central position in that system as a maker of proposals for appointment of ordinary judges to the President of the Republic. The new procedure, by which the proposal is prepared by an independent board, where judges form the majority, but the final proposal to the President is made by the Council of State, leaves the possibility for the Government to interfer in the appointment procedure. It remains to be seen if interventions, except for some very exceptional cases, will be avoided, as intended.
III The Funding of the Courts
1. Courts' activities are in Finland funded from the general State budget. It should be noted that while the courts charge small fees for certain services, these fees are also taken into the general budget; hence, the fees do not directly benefit the courts themselves.
2. The general State budget is laid down by the Parliament, on the basis of a proposal compiled in the Ministry of Finance. The court system has its own budget line (no 25.10), the proposal for which is agreed in budget negotiations between the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice, then, is in charge of the administration of the budget vis-à-vis the courts. The system adopted here is “management by results”, under which the Ministry and each court conduct annual “results negotiations”, setting certain target figures (for cases resolved, throughput times and the like) and allocating the personnel and funds with which the result should be achieved.
3. Within the framework of the personnel numbers (calculated in man-years) and the funds allocated for each court, the chief judge of the court is in charge of the management of the budget. Also, the negotiations by which the personnel and the funds have been arrived at are conducted on an equal basis between the Ministry and the court in question.
4. In recent years, increasing attention has been given to the IT and other office automation facilities available in the courts. All judges and virtually all other personnel now have personal workstations running word processing software, as well as the applications used in the case management in the various courts in Finland. (For further information, please see Justice and Technology in Europe (to be published, Kluwer, 2001)). As regards support staff, it can be stated as a general remark that the overall number of staff would seem to be adequate. However, differences of opinion exist as to what should be the correct ratio of regular clerical staff to the legally qualified persons drafting decisions and presenting them to the judges.
5. The funds allocated to the courts in the annual results
negotiations will not cover everything that can be contemplated. Choices will have to be made, with the inevitable result that some material needs of the courts are not fulfilled. This may of course have some effect on the efficiency of the activities of the judges. The problem is not a significant one, however.
6. In the District Courts, i.e., the general lower courts of Finland, a far-reaching system of delegating power is in operation. Under this system, it is the clerical staff, and not the judges, in a District Court that decide most of the uncontested matters brought before the court; in this event, the decision is based on the fact that the matter has not been contested and not on any evaluation of the merits. If judicial competence is required, the matter is forwarded to the judge for a decision. In addition, an assessment is under way on which types of matter could be wholly removed from the courts and assigned to other administrative authorities. So far, at least certain registration matters would appear to fall within this category.