The District Courts have lay members or "Lay Judges", who participate in making the decision in certain criminal cases. The composition with Lay Judges consists of the ordinary judge at the District Court, acting as the chairperson, and two Lay Judges. The Lay Judges are independently empowered and when necessary the decision is made by taking a vote, and in this case the majority’s opinion wins. If there is a tie in a vote taken on a criminal case, the opinion most advantageous to the defendant will prevail and on a civil case, the chairperson has the casting vote.
The municipal councils appoint the Lay Judges for terms of four years. Every municipality must have at least two Lay Judges and large municipalities considerably more than this. The Lay Judges should represent the age, sex, language, and occupation structure of the municipality as closely as possible.
A Lay Judge must be a Finnish citizen. A person younger than 25 or older than 63 years cannot be appointed as a Lay Judge. Persons with positions in the courts or the penal institutions cannot serve as Lay Judges, nor can persons serving as prosecutors, advocates or police officers.
A Lay Judge takes a judge’s oath or gives the corresponding solemn affirmation before taking his or her seat.
The objective is that each Lay Judge participates in a hearing approximately once a month, or 12 times a year. The District Court pays a hearing fee to the Lay Judges and reimburses them for loss of income.