There are many reasons for the duration of pre-trial investigations but only few ways to improve them
The Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen has issued a decision on a matter concerning the duration of pre-trial investigations in the police, which he took up on his own initiative.
In matters regarding the police, delays in pre-trial investigations are a general topic of complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Cases where the right to institute criminal procedures expires during the pre-trial investigation are becoming increasingly more common due to delays in pre-trial investigations. Under difficult working conditions, decisions to not submit a pre-trial investigation and suspend it may be made on very thin or even unlawful grounds.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman finds the situation with pre-trial police investigations very worrying and that it might weaken the credibility of the criminal justice system and trust in the police. The Parliamentary Ombudsman examined why the pre-trial investigations are delayed and what means the National Police Board considers having to shorten the duration of the pre-trial investigations.
According to the National Police Board, there are many reasons for delays in pre-trial investigations, such as the development of digitalisation, the state of daily crime, the heightened importance of the obligation to provide reasoning, internationalisation, the use of police resources, the increasingly demanding nature and extent of crimes, and legislative changes. The impact of these factors has not been sufficiently taken into account in relation to the personnel resources available to the police.
According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the insufficiency of resources in relation to the number of tasks is the fundamental issue behind the delays in pre-trial investigations. The Parliamentary Ombudsman emphasizes that the pre-trial investigation and the operation of the entire criminal process chain are matters of legal protection and the state’s core tasks, which should be reflected in the priorities of resource decisions.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman notes that opportunities for improving the efficiency of the criminal procedure must be continuously assessed. In certain categories of matters, pre-trial investigations can also be rushed by making the processing urgent by law. However, when a category of matters is set as urgent, the processing times in other categories will be longer if the resources remain the same.
In the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s view, it should be assessed whether the legal regulation of prioritising handling matters would have any benefits. The person who decides the order in which matters are investigated exercises significant social power. This consideration is now decentralised to individual heads of investigation, which makes it difficult to achieve a uniform and equal approach.
The parties must have access to legal remedies if the pre-trial investigation is delayed. One possibility is to recompense for a violation of fundamental and human rights caused by a delayed pre-trial investigation. If the case proceeds to court, it is possible to claim compensation under the Act on Compensation for the Excessive Length of Judicial Proceedings. The duration of the pre-trial investigation is also taken into account as a delay.
In the opinion of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, authorities should, on their own initiative, provide the parties concerned with information on the possibility of applying for compensation for suffering from the State Treasury if the pre-trial investigation has been unreasonably delayed in a matter that does not proceed to court. This is a first-stage legal remedy for a party in a delayed pre-trial investigation before taking legal action against the state. The costs that paying for the delays would inflict on the public authorities could also promote the allocation of resources to avoid delays.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman drew the National Police Board’s attention to his opinions on the delays in pre-trial investigations and asked the Board to continue to actively consider methods for rushing pre-trial investigations and to take care of internal oversight of legality in monitoring and supervising the duration of pre-trial investigations. The Parliamentary Ombudsman asks the National Police Board to inform him of its measures and the situation regarding the processing times of pre-trial investigations by 31 December 2023.
The full text of Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen’s decision no 1510/2021 has been published (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.
Further information is available from Kristian Holman, Senior Legal Adviser, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3368.