Finland Table of Contents
Finland's Constitution is not a single law, but rather a collection of four laws that have constitutional status. The most important is the Constitution Act of 1919, which lays out the functions and relationships of the most important government entities, lists the basic rights of Finnish citizens and the legal institutions charged with their protection, and makes provisions for managing state finances and for organizing the defense forces and public offices. The second of the basic laws is the Parliament Act of 1928, a slightly modernized version of the Parliament Act of 1906, which established the country's democratically elected parliament, the Eduskunta, and spelled out its procedures. Two other basic laws date from 1922 and involve supervision of the cabinet or government: the Responsibility of Ministers Act, which details the legal responsibilities of the members of the cabinet and the chancellor of justice; and the High Court of Impeachment Act, which explains how they are to be made accountable for infractions of the law.
Two acts dealing with the self-determination of the Aland Islands also have constitutional status (see fig. 1). The Autonomy Act of 1951 protects the Swedish character of the archipelago, and a law of 1975 restricts the purchase and ownership of land on the islands.
The Constitution Act of 1919, building on existing Finnish institutions, established a parliamentary system of government based on a division of powers among the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches of government. But the separation of powers is not complete, and the branches' powers and functions are overlapping and interlocking. Sovereign power rests with the Finnish people, who govern themselves through the Eduskunta. Sharing legislative power with the parliament, however, is a president, who also wields supreme executive power. He exercises this power through the Council of State, a cabinet of ministers. In accordance with parliamentary norms, this cabinet must resign if it loses the support of the Eduskunta. The judiciary is independent, yet it is bound by the laws passed by the Eduskunta, which, in turn, follows constitutional norms in drafting them. Like other Nordic countries, Finland has no constitutional court. The Eduskunta, acting through its Constitutional Committee, serves as the ultimate arbiter of the constitutionality of a law or legislative proposal. Composed of seventeen members, chosen to represent the party composition of the full chamber, the committee seeks expert opinion and lets itself be bound by legal precedents.
The Constitution may be amended if proposals to this end meet qualified or set majority requirements. The requirements are such that as few as one sixth of the Eduskunta's members can prevent the passage of amendments. The large number of Finnish political parties makes attaining qualified majorities nearly impossible, unless an amendment has widespread support. This protects the rights of minorities.
The individual rights of Finnish citizens are delineated in Section II of the Constitution Act, Article 5 through Article 16, and, with a single addition, there have remained unchanged since their adoption in 1919. The additional amendment, enacted in 1972, promises all Finns the opportunity for gainful employment, to be provided by the state if necessary. The list of rights is, of necessity, rather general. How they are exercised, protected, and limited is set out in ordinary laws. The state reserves for itself the right to limit them "in time of war or rebellion."
First and foremost, all citizens are equal under the law, with a constitutional guarantee of their rights to life, honor, personal freedom, and property. The reference to honor provides for protection against false and slanderous charges and reflects the importance of reputation in Finnish tradition. The protection of property and the requirement for full compensation if it is expropriated for public needs indicate the conservative nature of the Finnish Constitution. The right of freedom of movement encompasses residence, protection from deportation, and guaranteed readmittance into Finland. Only in special cases, such as convictions for criminal activity, are these freedoms abridged. Complete freedom of religious worship and association is guaranteed, as is freedom from religion.
Finnish citizens are guaranteed free speech and the right of assembly, as well as the right to publish uncensored texts or pictures. The inviolability of the home is promised, and a domicile can be searched only according to conditions set by law. Privacy of communications by mail, telegraph, or telephone is likewise provided for. A Finn may be tried only in a court having prescribed jurisdiction over him. The safeguarding of the cultural affinities of the country's citizens is regarded as a fundamental right, and, as a consequence, the two languages spoken by native-born Finns, Finnish and Swedish, both enjoy the status of official language. The act stipulates that a Finn may use either of these two languages in a court of law and may obtain in that language all pertinent legal or official documents. Finally, in accordance with its nature as a republic, Finland grants no noble or hereditary titles.
Data as of December 1988
Finland Table of Contents