Finding judicial assistance

In most cases, parties in court proceedings need to have a lawyer present. A qualified legal professional should also ideally be consulted before drawing up any legal documents.

Legal services are available from attorneys, law firms and State Legal Aid Offices, which employ public legal aid attorneys.

The general rule is that everyone pays for his or her own legal assistance. However, many home insurance policies and trade union memberships include legal expenses insurance, which covers any costs incurred from legal proceedings, such as attorneys’ fees.

If an individual cannot afford a lawyer and has no legal expenses insurance, he or she can apply to have some or all of his or her legal costs covered by the State. The decision whether to grant legal aid and how much depends on the applicant’s earnings, expenses, assets and dependants. Approximately 75 per cent of households are entitled to receive legal aid paid either wholly or partially by the State.

Legal aid can also be granted to cover the excess of any legal expenses insurance if the applicant qualifies for free legal aid on the basis of his or her income and assets.

Applications for legal aid are processed by State Legal Aid Offices. Legal aid is available for all legal matters, such as court proceedings and drawing up legal documents. In the case of court proceedings, the client can choose whether he or she wants to be represented by a public legal aid attorney employed by a State Legal Aid Office or by an attorney or other private lawyer. In many cases, the client will contact his or her chosen legal assistant who will then apply for legal aid on the client’s behalf.

Businesses and organisations are not eligible for legal aid.

In criminal cases, the State will in some circumstances pay for the defendant’s, i.e. the accused’s, defence counsel, regardless of the defendant’s financial situation. A defence counsel will be appointed upon request for anyone accused of, arrested or detained for an aggravated offence. The court can decide to appoint a defence counsel for a person under the age of 18 or for anyone who is unable to defend him or herself. In most cases, the accused will be able to choose his or her own defence attorney.

If the accused is convicted of the crime, he or she must reimburse the State for the cost of the attorney unless he or she qualifies for free legal aid on the basis of his or her income.

Victims of serious violent crime or sexual offences are also entitled to a legal counsel and a support person paid for by the State, regardless of their income.

Information about attorneys’ fees is available on the website of the Finnish Bar Association. Attorneys provide free legal advice in approximately twenty locations around Finland. More information about this service is available on the website of the Finnish Bar Association under ‘On-call Attorneys’.

Lawyers other than attorneys and public legal aid attorneys generally need a permit to act as legal counsels in court.

The electronic services portal of the Finnish Judicial Administration has a search function for finding out which lawyers hold these kinds of permits.

Published 11.1.2017