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Doctoral thesis: Finnish human rights culture is still undergoing a transition

30.11.2015

The legal culture of protecting fundamental rights and human rights has faced changes in phases as a result of accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. A new cross-scientific doctoral research of M.Pol.Sc, MA Virpi Koivu indicates, however, that the transition of legal culture is still not complete.

Virpi Koivu has studied in her doctoral research the reception of the argumentation of the European Court of Human Rights in the Finnish legal culture. She has analysed the discourse of the Finnish Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court in the light judgments relating to the application of the European Convention on Human Rights. According to Koivu, details in the argumentation of the courts reflect changes in the human rights culture.

"The style of argumentation of the Finnish supreme jurisdictions in that respect has partly changed and appears to be still changing. Although the legal culture is still undergoing transition, the protection of fundamental rights and human rights has already clearly strengthened as a result of changes in judgments in terms of both quantity and quality", says Koivu.

According to Koivu, there are also several other factors that have had an impact on a stronger legal culture of protecting fundamental rights and human rights, including in particular changes in legislation, changes of political attitudes and increasing awareness in general.

The doctoral thesis falls within the fields of international law, constitutional law and legal linguistics. The legal culture is delimited in the research to cover the legal framework, i.e. human rights conventions and constitutional provisions on fundamental rights, and the related case law of the European Court of Human Rights and Finnish supreme jurisdictions.


Changes in three phases

Virpi Koivu argues that the protection of human rights in the Finnish legal system has changed in three phases as a result of accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. The first phase consists of those changes that were needed in the legal system and legislation to make the accession possible and as a result of the accession.

In the second phase, the legal culture has undergone changes as a result of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, giving a more precise meaning to the provisions of the Convention. In the third phase, the transition of the protection of fundamental rights and human rights depends on how the national courts apply the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

When compared with a number of other States used as sources of reference, Finland acceded to the Convention late. Thus, there was plenty of case law of the European Court of Human Rights available at the moment of accession, but that case law has continued to develop along with new applications to the Court, including Finnish human rights complaints. The European case law is binding on national legal systems and thereby it shapes the protection of fundamental rights and human rights.


Challenges faced by Finland

The number of judgments against Finland finding a violation of Convention rights is relatively high compared e.g. with Germany, when taking into account the smaller population and the late moment of accession to the Convention. Different explanations may be sought for this, including among others the relatively young traditions of constitutional protection of fundamental rights when compared with continental Europe, as well as different traditions of applying precedents.

A detailed list of rights was only included in the Constitution through the fundamental rights reform of 1995. Before accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, it was not customary for Finnish courts to apply international human rights conventions. Nor has it been usual to apply prior case law as a source of law, which is due to a strong emphasis of the legal system on legislation.

However, the real meaning of human rights and fundamental rights depends on how they are applied. According to Koivu, a more systematic and detailed application of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights by the Finnish supreme jurisdictions has brought about a strengthened protection of fundamental rights and human rights.


Information on the public examination of the dissertation:

Virpi Koivu's doctoral thesis European Convention on Human Rights and transition of the legal culture – Reception of the argumentation of the European Court of Human Rights by the Finnish supreme jurisdictions will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Law, University of Lapland on Friday 4 December 2015 at 12 noon in lecture room 2 (street address: Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi). The Opponent will be Professor Janneke Gerards from the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The Custos will be Professor emeritus Heikki E. S. Mattila from the University of Lapland. Welcome!


Information on the doctoral candidate:

M.Pol.Sc, MA Virpi Koivu (born 1970) completed upper secondary school in 1989, and has obtained the degree of Master of Arts at the University of Turku in 1997 and the degree of Master of Political Sciences at the Åbo Akademi University in 2001.

The author has previously worked for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in duties relating to translation, international law and human rights, for the Supreme Administrative Court in duties of a press officer and for the Council of the European Union in Brussels in duties of a legal-linguistic expert.

The author works at present for the Ministry of the Interior.


Further information:

Virpi Koivu
Tel. +358 2 9548 8592
virkoivu (at) ulapland.fi

For press copies of the dissertation and sales, please contact Lapland University Press, tel. +358 40 821 4242, publications (at) ulapland.fi

Sales of printed copies: Verkkokauppa Juvenes


Publication:

Virpi Koivu: European Convention on Human Rights and transition of the legal culture – Reception of the argumentation of the European Court of Human Rights by the Finnish supreme jurisdictions. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 314. Lapland University Press. Rovaniemi. 2015. ISBN 978-952-484-859-6. ISSN 0788-7604. Electronic version (pdf): Acta Electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 182. ISBN (pdf) 978-952-484-860-2. ISSN 1796-6310.


ULapland/Communications/RJ
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