Criminal law is a part of the public law branch, which focuses on regulating the relationship between an individual and the state. Criminal law regulates the liability to a crime and it also includes the rules for the punishment of people who commit crimes.

A certain act or lack of action thereof is considered criminal if the national criminal law defines it as such. An individual crime provision therefore always includes a definition of an act. For example:

Chapter 21 of the Finnish Criminal Code regulates homicide and bodily injury. Section 5 regulates assault:

1. A person who employs physical violence on another or, without such violence, injures the health of another, causes pain to another or renders another unconscious or into a comparable condition, shall be sentenced for assault to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years.

2. An attempt is punishable. 

The first clause of the provision of assault includes the definition of the crime and its consequent sanction, such as fine or imprisonment. The second clause of the assault regulates an attempt of assault also punishable. If such a clause is not included in the provision, the attempt cannot be punishable. 

As stated above, omission (lack of action) could result in criminal liability as well. In such a case, the punishability is specifically worded in the definition of the crime. On the other hand, the omission may be punishable because the person has a special duty to prevent something from happening. For example, a party to a contract has contractual duties to prevent the causing of a consequence. If they do not act accordingly, their neglect may constitute omission and result in criminal liability.

Punishable because of acting or not acting

The Criminal Code of Finland regulates that criminal liability requires either intent or negligence. 

Intent means that a person has deliberately caused a consequence which is included in the definition of a crime. Therefore, if this person has intentionally injured the health of another person, they are liable to assault. 

Negligence means a person has violated their duty to act carefully in a certain situation. For example, a driver has several duties to drive in a careful manner. If they drive recklessly and hit a cyclist, although not intentionally, this could be considered negligent behaviour and therefore, result in liability for a crime. 

There are certain grounds for exemption from liability. Some examples are self-defense and necessity. 

1. “An act that is necessary to defend against an ongoing or imminent unlawful attack is lawful as self-defenseunless the act manifestly exceeds what in an overall assessment is to be deemed justifiable, taking into account the nature and strength of the attack, the identity of the defender and the attacker and the other circumstances”.

2. “An act other than self-defense, necessary to ward off an immediate and compelling threat to a legally protected interest, is permissible as an act of necessity if the act when assessed as a whole is justifiable, taking into account the nature and extent of the interest to be rescued and the damage and detriment caused by the act, the origin of the danger and the other circumstances”. 

The penalty system in Finland is based on custodial sentences, for example in the form of imprisonment, and substance penalties such as fines. Other forms of penalties, for example, the death penalty, are not accepted in the Finnish judicial system.

Different punishments of criminal conduct

The punishments in the Criminal Code of Finland are listed as such:

  1. Summary penal fine 
    1. A fixed amount, less severe than a fine.
  2. Fine 
    1. A fine is passed in the form of day fines on a scale of one to 120 days. The amount of the day fine is based on the solvency of the person. One-sixtieth of the average monthly income of the person is considered as a reasonable amount.
  3. Conditional imprisonment
    1. The enforcement of the sentence is postponed for a probation period of one to three years.
    2. A sentence of imprisonment for a fixed period not exceeding two years may be conditional, unless the seriousness of the offense, the guilt of the offender as manifested in the offense, or the criminal history of the offender requires the imposition of an unconditional sentence of imprisonment.
  4. Community service
    1. An offender who is sentenced to a fixed term of unconditional imprisonment of at most eight months shall be sentenced instead to community service unless unconditional sentences of imprisonment, monitoring sentences, earlier community service orders, a continuation of criminal activity, or other weighty reasons are to be considered bars to the imposition of the community service order.
  5. Monitoring sentence
    1. An offender who is sentenced to a fixed term of unconditional imprisonment of at most six months shall instead have a monitoring sentence imposed for a similar length of time if certain requirements are met.  
  6. Unconditional imprisonment
    1. Sentences of imprisonment exceeding two years are always unconditional, meaning that the sentence is served in prison.
    2. However, an unconditional sentence for imprisonment shall not be imposed for an offense committed when the offender was below the age of 18 years unless this is demanded by weighty reasons.
    3. Minimum of fourteen days and a maximum of twelve years or, if the sentence concerns several offenses, a maximum of fifteen years. 
    4. Life imprisonment means the sentenced person stays in prison for the rest of their life. However, the prisoner may apply for conditional release after 12 years of imprisonment. In exceptional cases, a pardon may be issued by the President of the Republic to terminate the sentence. 

Our lawyers will help you navigate through the Finnish legal system and will answer all of the questions it may give rise to! 


The Criminal Code of Finland, accessible: 

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