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Constitution as the foundation of the state

​Constitution as the foundation of the state

The state is governed according to a constitution. A constitution is a set of legal principles that determines how the operations of a state are organised and how various governmental bodies work and make decisions.

​Constitution

Constitutions are permanent in nature compared with other laws. The constitution can be only be changed through a more complicated process of constitutional amendment. According to the current constitution of Finland it can only be amended or changed through two procedures: either the amendment is adopted and enacted by 2/3 majority by two consecutive parliaments or the bill is declared urgent by 5/6majority and then adopted by a 2/3 majority.

During Finland’s independence, six Constitutions (including the current one) have been in force: the 1906 and 1928 Parliament Acts, the 1919 Constitution Act and the 1922 Ministerial Responsibility Act and the 1922 Act on the High Court of Impeachment. In 1999, a new Constitution was enacted, which covers the main substance of the previous constitutions, with the exception of procedural regulations governing the Parliament, which are currently prescribed in the Procedure of Parliament.

Basic rights

The constitution also provides regulations concerning citizens’ rights. The most fundamental of them deal with the basic rights of Finnish citizens. In 1995, Finland implemented an amendment of basic rights and, in conjunction with that, the basic rights of citizens, such as personal freedom, integrity and security, were included in the Constitution Act of the time. These basic rights are also included in the current Constitution Act.

In practice, the implementation of basic rights is nearly always enacted in acts, which are also deemed to form part of the Constitution. For example, the Assembly Act and the Act on the Openness of Government Activities are part of the Finnish Constitution.

European Convention on Human Rights

In 1990, Finland ratified European Convention on Human Rights the European Convention on Human Rights. This brought changes to Finnish constitutional thinking. According to the earlier view, the basic rights only concerned the citizens of Finland.

However, as prescribed in the European Convention on Human Rights, basic rights have since been extended, through changes in legislation, to apply to all those who fall under Finnish jurisdiction, regardless of nationality. One of the very few exceptions is the freedom of movement, which is more extensive for Finnish citizens than for foreign nationals. Otherwise the basic rights are applied to every individual.

International agreements and legal rules

International agreements and legal rules now place more restrictions on the sovereignty of a state than hitherto. For example, Finnish nationals, or anyone residing in Finland, may bring an action against the state before the European Court of Human Rights , if they think the Finnish state has violated their human rights. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Finland on several occasions, particularly in matters concerning excessive length of court proceedings and violations of freedom of speech.

The lawfulness of the activities of government officials is overseen by the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman. In addition to the national judicial system and the European Court of Human Rights, Finnish citizens and residents may also appeal and file complaints to the European Parliament Committee on Petitions and the European Ombudsman.