The system of government in Finland is a mixed presidential and parliamentary model. The new Constitution of the Republic of Finland (hereinafter the "FC") entered into force on 1 March 2000. It did not, however, serve to alter the fundamental principles of constitutional law in Finland; in fact, it is based upon four old constitutional acts, which the new LC brought together into one document and simultaneously repealed. The previous system of four constitutional laws was an exceptional model, but the fragmentation inevitably led to a reduction of clarity and internal consistency. The material objective of the reform other than unifying the existing laws into a coherent whole, was the reinforcement of the powers of Parliament in the Finnish political system. The FC reinforces the status of Parliament as being the supreme political organ and strengthens the position of the Government (Chapter 1 FC – Fundamental Provisions). Nevertheless, the office of the President of the Republic remains an important political organ.
Chapter 2 of the FC contains guarantees of basic individual civil rights, for example, legal equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of assembly, freedom to choose one’s place of residence, and the freedom of movement. The list continues to include the right to one’s language (Finnish or Swedish are the two official languages) and others such as, right to free education, the obligation of the municipality to provide those with insufficient means with resources to lead a life with human dignity.
Section 3 (1) of the FC establishes the principal of separation of powers that is between the legislative, executive and judicial.
The President of the Republic and the Government exercise executive power (Section 3 FC).The President is elected directly for a term of six years. Most decisions made by the President are on the advice of the Government. The main duties of the President are handling foreign policy (but for certain international agreements and decisions of peace or war, which are dealt with by the Parliament) and acting as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President may also initiate legislation, block legislation and call extraordinary parliamentary sessions.
The Government must have the confidence of Parliament, so although the President appoints the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister is elected by the Parliament – Section 61(1) FC. The Government consists of the Prime Minister and a maximum of 17 Ministers. Government ministers are appointed to their portfolios by an open letter of appointment from the President of the Republic. The Government is also to be understood as the decision-making body for governmental and administrative matters consisting of the Government plenary session and the ministries. The members of the Government work both in the ministry, which they have been appointed to head or serve, and in the Government, with the latter responsibility involving participation in the Cabinet Committees, the plenary sessions and the Government's presidential sessions. The Chancellor of Justice, together with the Office of the Chancellor of Justice, is considered to be part of the Government. The FC grants express authority to the President, the Government and the Ministries to issue decrees.
Legislative power is exercised by a unicameral Parliament, called the Eduskunta in conjunction with the President of the Republic. The Eduskunta consists of 200 representatives, who are elected for a term of four years (Section 24 FC) For the purpose of electing representatives the country is divided into 12 – 18 electorates, based on the number of Finnish citizens (proportional system – Section 25 (2) FC). Additionally, the Alad Islands form their own constituency and have the right to elect one representative. In short, the Eduskunta may alter the Constitution, override the veto of the President and cause the resignation of the Council of the State. They also elect the Prime Minister and conduct the negotiations for the formation of Government.
The Parliament Act currently governs the work of the Parliament, however, this instrument will be transferred to the Rules of Parliamentary Procedure, which are now in the process of being drafted. According to Section 34 of the FC, the Parliament elects from among its member a Speaker and two Deputy Speakers for each parliamentary session. The Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the chairpersons of the parliamentary Committees form the Speaker’s Council, which issues instructions on the organisation of parliamentary work. For each electoral term, the Parliament will appoint the Grand Committee, the Constitutional Law Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Finance Committee and other standing committees provided for in the Parliaments rules of procedure. The Parliament also appoints a Parliamentary Ombudsman, for a term of five years (Section 38 FC).
A motion submitted by a Representative or by the submission of a bill by the Government may initiate the legislative process. The draft bill will most frequently originate from the Ministry with responsibility for the matter addressed by the proposed law. Where the bill concerns matters of broad significance, it will be prepared in Committees consisting in representative from the various organs of government, political parties and interest groups. Interest groups are invited to comment on the draft legislation. Bills drafted within relevant Ministries will be subjected to the review of the council of State in a general session prior to their being submitted to Parliament by the President. According to Section 72 of the FC, the bill will be submitted to the Parliament and debated upon, after which time it will be further to a committee who considers the issue, also using external experts and presents an opinion about the bill. The bill is then returned to Parliament with a report of the findings of the committee and receives its first hearing. This first hearing is, in essence, a general discussion about the bill, with the option of referral to the Grand Committee. Following this detailed consideration, the Parliament will either adopt or reject the bill in a second hearing. An act with has been adopted is then handed over to the President for ratification. If the President fails to the adopted act within three months, it will nevertheless come into force (without presidential ratification). The acts of Parliament are not subject to judicial review.
Constitutional amendments go through the same legislative process as all other acts passed by Parliament, until they reach stage of the second hearing, at which point, in accordance with Section 73 of the FC, the proposed amendment is left in abeyance (suspension) until the next parliamentary elections. The idea is for the constitutional amendment to receive both the majority of votes of the Parliament responsible for introducing it, and the successive Parliament. Therefore, if receives two-thirds of the votes cast of the new Parliament, it will be adopted. Section 73 provides that if a constitutional amendment is considered urgent (by at least a five-sixths majority), it may in this case, be introduced by a single Parliament (Section 73(2)).
Judicial power is vested in independent courts of law, with the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court as the highest instances (Section 3(2) FC). Pursuant to Section 100, the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court are composed of the President of the Court and the requisite number of justices, as set out in separate acts on the courts. Both the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court have a competent quorum when five members are present, unless otherwise specified by and act. The Constitution also establishes the High Court of Impeachment (Section101) which deals with charges bought against members of the Government, the Chancellor of justice, the Parliamentary Ombudsman or a member of the Supreme Court or Supreme Administrative Court for unlawful conduct in office. The Chancellor of Justice (the country’s highest guardian of the law) and the Parliamentary Ombudsman oversee and supervise the system of justice. With the Ombudsman dealing with complaints from citizens and the Chancellor of Justice supervising public prosecutors their supervisory functions often overlap. Nonetheless, each is required to submit an annual report of activities conducted to the Parliament.
The general court system has jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters. It consists of the lower courts, the courts of appeal and finally the Supreme Court. The administrative court system on the other hand, deals with appeals against administrative decisions undertaken by government agencies, although in some case appeals may be lodged with higher administrative levels within the government. The Finnish judicial system has also established courts of special jurisdiction ie. land claims, with appeals from these courts forwarded to the Supreme Court.
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