An official name must be in its language, content and structure such that a client recognises it as the authority's name and it is distinguishable from, for example, the names of commercial enterprises. In addition, it must be possible for the name of a bilingual authority to be presented in both of the national languages.
It is not, however, unlawful to use an abbreviation or other supplementary name in conjunction with the official name, as long as great care is taken to ensure that uncertainty about the authority does not arise. The use by an authority of an abbreviation or supplementary name alone is permissible only internally.
In his decision on the complaints, the Ombudsman took the view that the Finnish Transport Safety Agency and the Kymenlaakso Social and Health Services joint authority had not acted unlawfully when they used the names Trafi and Carea, respectively, in conjunction with their official names in such a way that uncertainty about the authority is not created.
The Finnish Transport Safety Agency had, however, acted wrongly when it used only the name Trafi on envelopes that it had sent out with vehicle tax cards. Some complainants had thought the letter was advertising mail and had nearly thrown it into the wastepaper basket.
The Ombudsman also drew attention to the fact that the Trafi logo text had been given pride of place on the front page of the agency's documents. In his opinion, documents with a visual format of this kind do not satisfy the requirement that an authority's name must appear in primary place in a factual conjunction and that it is immediately clear to a client that what is involved is a Finnish authority.
By contrast, the Kymenlaakso Social and Health Services joint authority did not to the Ombudsman's knowledge use the name Carea on its own or otherwise contrary to the principles he has set forth.
Ombudsman recommends creation of good name-formulation practice
Ombudsman Jääskeläinen regards the question of naming instances that perform public administrative tasks as important from the perspective of good administration and language rights. This is given expression by the fact that the Constitution requires the name of a state authority that exercises public power to be stated in an Act. Correspondingly, the Local Government Act requires the name of, for example, an intermunicipal joint authority to be mentioned in its founding document.
The supplementary names of and abbreviations for authorities are nowadays formed in many different ways: some names are founded in legislation, some are abbreviations or acronyms that are formed in various ways and others are words that the authorities themselves have adopted.
Ombudsman Jääskeläinen believes that it is quite a separate question how supplementary names for authorities should be formulated. So far, criteria derived from language rights and the demands of good administration similar to those that apply to formulating the names of authorities do not exist.
The Ombudsman is of the view that a uniform practice, in which the demands of good administration and cherishing the country's language culture tradition are taken into account, should be established for the formulation of authorities' names, including abbreviations, acronyms and supplementary names. He recommends that consideration be given to whether the criteria for formulating the names of authorities and other instances that perform public tasks and the role of the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland be specifically set forth in separate legislation.
The Ombudsman has sent copies of his decision to the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for drafting the Administrative Procedure Act and the Language Act, to the Ministry of Finance, which is responsible for the development of administration as well as to the Ministry of Education and Culture, the remit of which includes drafting legislation concerning the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland. The ministries have been asked to inform him, by 31.1.2012, of what measures his decision and recommendation have given rise to.
Additional info will be provided by Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. + 358 (0)9 4321.