Proceedings in criminal cases

Criminal cases are dealt with by the general courts, i.e. the district courts, the courts of appeal and the Supreme Court.

The purpose of criminal proceedings is to establish whether a suspect has committed an offence and to decide which punishment is to be imposed on the person found guilty. Usually, criminal cases are considered in an oral hearing of a district court, but simple cases where the defendant has pleaded guilty may also be decided in a written procedure, which means that the decision is solely based on written documents.

Criminal proceedings in court are led by a judge. Most criminal cases are heard and decided by a single legally qualified judge. The most serious criminal cases are heard by a composition consisting of a legally qualified judge and lay judges. A criminal case may also be heard by a panel of two or three legally qualified judges, if the matter is particularly complex or there are other special reasons for this.

The parties to criminal proceedings are the victim of the crime (i.e. the injured party) if he or she has claims, the accused (i.e. the defendant), and the prosecutor, who will present the charge. In addition, witnesses are often heard in order to resolve the case.

Obligation to appear before the court

The court or the prosecutor summons the parties to the trial (main hearing). The parties should read the summons carefully, because it contains information on whether the party must appear in court in person or whether he or she may be represented by a legal counsel. It is also stated in the summons whether the case may be decided in the absence of the party.

You can read more from page Summoned to trial.

Who participates in the criminal proceedings?

The prosecutor

The prosecutor brings a charge against the suspect and makes a demand for his or her punishment. For more information on the duties of the prosecutors, please see the website of the National Prosecution Authority.

Injured party

The injured party is the victim of the alleged offence or a person suffering damage because of the offence.

The injured party is summoned to the main hearing, if this is considered necessary. The prosecutor often wants to hear the injured party in person in order to investigate the events. If the injured party has not been summoned to participate in the hearing in person at the risk of a fine, the arrival at the main hearing shall be voluntary.

An injured party’s claim for compensation against the defendant arising from the crime may be considered in connection with the criminal case.

The instructions for the proceedings for the injured parties can be found from page Summoned to trial.

The defendant

The defendant, or the accused, is the person against whom the prosecutor brings a charge.

The defendant will be informed of the charges brought against him when he or she is given a summons. This is usual-ly given by the court's superior. At the same time, the defendant is usually summoned to a trial. However, he may also be asked to answer the charge in writing even before the trial.

The district court will state in the summons whether the defendant must arrive at the trial in person. The case may be heard at a district court hearing, i.e. in the main proceedings without the defendant being present, if the defend-ant's presence in the investigation is not necessary, for example when the act has been acknowledged in the pretrial investigation. The defendant is, however, always entitled to be present in the main hearing in person, if he or she so wishes.

The instructions for the proceedings for the defendants can be found from page Summoned to trial.

The witness

A witness is a person whose observations or expertise is used for determining the course of events. The duty of the witness is to recount what he or she certainly remembers of the events and his or her own observations. The witness does not represent either party and therefore should not take the interests of either party into account when giving a testimony.

The instructions for the proceedings for witnesses can be found from page Summoned to trial.

Published 5.1.2021