Language Provisions in the Finnish Constitution







Originally, the Finnish Constitution was made up of several basic acts; this is a situation that Canada knows well: the Canadian Constitution encompasses more than thirty pieces of legislation passed since 1867. Finland had an act of constitution dating from 1919 (the date of its independence) that had been amended multiple times since its adoption. Other pieces of constitutional legislation included the Constitution Act concerning Parliament adopted on January 13, 1928, the Act concerning the High Court of Justice adopted on November 25, 1922, and another act on the legality of acts of members of government, adopted November 25, 1922. When Finland joined the European Union in 1991, a Constitution Committee was formed. In its report of May 1993, it recommended that all constitutional legislation be grouped together in a single text. A working group called "Constitution 2000" was given the task of developing a draft Constitution and submitting it to Parliament. The draft was approved by Parliament, and the new Constitution came into force on March 1, 2000.

The Finnish Constitution was drafted in two original versions: Finnish and Swedish. An official version in Saami was eventually made available to the Saami people (Laplanders). The Finnish Department of Justice commissioned non-official translations in French, English, Spanish, German and Russian.



Language Provisions in the Finnish Constitution


The Constitution of Finland


Section 6

1) Everyone is equal before the law.

2) No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person.

3) Children shall be treated equally and as individuals and they shall be allowed to influence matters pertaining to themselves to a degree corresponding to their level of development.

4) Equality of the sexes is promoted in societal activity and working life, especially in the determination of pay and the other terms of employment, as provided in more detail by an Act.

Section 17
Right to one's language and culture

1) The national languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish.

2) The right of everyone to use his or her own language, either Finnish or Swedish, before courts of law and other authorities, and to receive official documents in that language, shall be guaranteed by an Act. The public authorities shall provide for the cultural and societal needs of the Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking populations of the country on an equal basis.

3) The Saami, as an indigenous people, as well as the Roma and other groups, have the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture. Provisions on the right of the Saami to use the Saami language before the authorities are laid down by an Act. The rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation or translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act.

Section 51
Languages used in parliamentary work

1) The Finnish or Swedish languages are used in parliamentary work.

2) The Government and the other authorities shall submit the documents necessary for a matter to be taken up for consideration in the Parliament both in Finnish and Swedish. Likewise, the parliamentary replies and communications, the reports and statements of the Committees, as well as the written proposals of the Speaker's Council, shall be written in Finnish and Swedish.

Article 79
Publication and entry into force of Acts

1) If an Act has been enacted in accordance with the procedure for constitutional enactment, this is indicated in the Act.

2) An Act which has been confirmed or which enters into force without confirmation shall be signed by the President of the Republic and countersigned by the appropriate Minister. The Government shall thereafter without delay publish the Act in the Statute Book of Finland.

3) The Act shall indicate the date when it enters into force. For a special reason, it may be stated in an Act that it is to enter into force by means of a Decree. If the Act has not been published by the date provided for its entry into force, it shall enter into force on the date of its publication.

4) Acts are enacted and published in Finnish and Swedish.

Article 130
Entry into force

1) This Constitution shall enter into force on 1 March 2000.

2) Detailed provisions necessary for the implementation of the Constitution are laid down by an Act.

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