Court: Judges' racist slurs have not affected rulings

The summary of a study conducted at the Helsinki Court of Appeal (up) caused a controversy in June. The court has now submitted a report on the conclusions (below) to the Chancellor of Justice.

Use of inappropriate language during recesses is a problem at the Helsinki Court of Appeal.

THE RACIST and otherwise inappropriate remarks by judges at the Helsinki Court of Appeal have not influenced the decision-making of the court, the court assures. In a report presented to the Chancellor of Justice, the court nevertheless concedes that inappropriate language has been used virtually across its divisions.

The judges' habits were exposed in June, when MTV Uutiset disclosed details of a summary of an internal study conducted at the Helsinki Court of Appeal.

The summary indicated that judges tell racist jokes and criticise the looks of plaintiffs and legal counsels during breaks in hearings. In addition, bullying and sexual harassment were identified as problems in the summary.

The court has refused to publish the study in its entirety.

Following the revelation, the Chancellor of Justice requested a report from the court in order to determine how wide-spread such conduct is and whether it may have influenced the decision-making of the court.

The judges who conducted the study insist that estimating the number of people who have made inappropriate remarks is difficult. “Language that is at least to some extent inappropriate has been detected in nearly every division and used by members of all personnel groups,” they explain in the report presented to the Chancellor of Justice.

Mikko Könkkölä, the president of the Helsinki Court of Appeal, heard the court's chief judges and one judge for the report.

A chief judge identified in June's study denies making racist or otherwise inappropriate remarks, insisting that the quotes in the summary have been taken out of context.

A judge identified in the study, in turn, admits to occasionally resorting to puns and gallows humour. However, he denies commenting on the looks of female plaintiffs and counsels, stressing that if such comments have indeed been made, they have been meant in the positive sense.

Another chief judge says that “sometimes something may have been said at the coffee table”, but that the remarks were never racist.

The report presented to the Chancellor of Justice suggests that the problem is rooted chiefly in one division of the Helsinki Court of Appeal. Members of the division reveal that racist phrases and derogatory remarks about the minorities are made during recesses or after hearings. According to them, the issue concerns more than one member of the court.

Also referendaries believe the problem to be genuine.

Several members of the court, however, view that the results of the study that stirred the controversy have been overstated, stressing that they do not recognise their workplace in the summary.

According to Könkkölä, the publicity received by the summary has complicated addressing the issue internally. The publicity and the conclusions presented in the study have, however, sparked “very animated discussions,” he says.

As a result, Könkkölä estimates that language use has improved notably.

Susanna Reinboth – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
© Helsingin Sanomat
Illustration: HS

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