Pauliine Koskelo, the President of the Supreme CourtDrink-driving cases should not be brought to court, the President of the Supreme Court views.

THE COST-CUTS imposed on the Finnish judicial system by the Government necessitate extensive reforms, argues Pauliine Koskelo, the President of the Supreme Court. Unless reforms are adopted, judicial protection in the country may deteriorate, she cautions.

“Cost-cuts solve nothing. You must instead cut the need to spend by rationalising the operations of the judicial system. It's a misconception to think that the judicial system can, with internal measures alone, respond to the massive cuts,” Koskelo states.

Without sufficient reforms, she cautions, the cost-cuts will lead to a situation where district and appeals courts have insufficient resources to investigate complex criminal matters and civil disputes.

“The Europeanisation of the judicial culture has considerably increased the demands on judges. The cost-cuts affect quality, unless you also repair the system,” says Koskelo.

The Europeanisation of the judicial culture means that courts of justice must in their decision-making increasingly take into consideration rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Court of Justice of the European Union. “Judges must constantly be aware of how a particular law is interpreted and applied in the context of European demands. It's an arduous task that requires time and training,” Koskelo explains.

In comparison to other Nordic countries, Finland has been reprimanded by the ECHR relatively often, typically for excessively long trial proceedings. “You can only improve quality if courts of justice are relieved from a mass of straightforward cases,” Koskelo views.

The Supreme Court, she reveals, regularly encounters cases the fundamental questions of which should have been studied more thoroughly already at lower courts.

“It's very alarming for the judicial protection of people. If the number of resolved cases is the only indicator, quality will be compromised.”

According to Koskelo, one means to enhance the efficiency of the courts is a legislative reform stipulating that ordinary drink-driving cases are not brought to court. “When nabbing a drunk driver, the police are not allowed to order a fine, but the matter will be brought to court through a prosecutor. This is misuse of shrinking resources, nothing more,” states Koskelo.

Drink-driving cases, she views, should be processed similarly to speeding cases, by allowing the plaintiff to dispute the fine imposed by the police.

In more complex cases, courts generally concentrate on evidentiary issues and determining the legal questions that require a ruling.

“I recently delivered rulings in two sex crime cases that entailed complex evidentiary considerations in oral proceedings. For the plaintiffs, it's traumatising to have to recount the events for as many as four times – to the police, the district court, the court of appeal and the Supreme Court.”

Koskelo believes the judicial system should be revamped to resemble the Swedish system, where all evidence is considered and stored electronically by district courts. Thereon, new evidence could only be presented upon a special permission. Today, defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses and experts are instead bothered unnecessarily at every instance.

“We should establish a system where evidentiary issues are considered once very thoroughly. Thereon, the possible appeal process should concentrate solely on controlling the district court's ruling and genuine legal questions.”

In civil disputes, the problem occasionally is that the legal proceedings are loaded with also problems of non-legal nature. “In civil disputes, such as custody disputes, you could reduce the burden on courts with conciliation proceedings.”

Petri Sajari – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
© Helsingin Sanomat
Photo: Sabrina Bqain / HS