Legal problems related to the overseight of restrictions on mobility and gatherings
Petri Jääskeläinen, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, is investigating several complaints and has also taken the initiative to begin his own investigations in cases concerning the actions of the police in overseeing the restrictions on mobility and gatherings introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Unjustified orders for fines issued during the oversight of the closure of the Uusimaa border
According to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the police issued several unjustified orders for fines for attempts to cross the Uusimaa province border. It was forbidden to cross the border without a cogent reason. The ombudsman pointed out that attempting to breach this restriction imposed on the basis of the Emergency Powers Act is not punishable.
Parliamentary Ombudsman Jääskeläinen investigated the police practices relating to fines on his own initiative. It came to light that the police had a policy whereby if a person had once been turned away at the border and subsequently attempted again to cross it without an acceptable reason, he/she could be issued with an order for a fine for violating the Emergency Powers Act. However, according to the Criminal Code of Finland, an attempted criminal offence is only punishable if the attempt has been prescribed as punishable. The attempted violation of the Emergency Powers Act is not a punishable offence. Even repeated attempts to cross the Uusimaa border in contravention of the Government Decree are not, therefore, punishable offences.
The orders for fines issued by the police are not the final: the final decisions are made by the prosecutor. The Parliamentary Ombudsman considered it justified for prosecutors to thoroughly review all cases in which an order for a fine has been issued for violating the Emergency Powers Act to ensure that a lawful outcome has been (or will be) reached. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has asked the Prosecutor General to state the measures she has taken in this regard.
In other regards, the Parliamentary Ombudsman will issue a decision at a later date concerning the actions of the police when monitoring the Uusimaa border.
Decision 2464/2020 is available in full in Finnish on the Ombudsman’s website, www.oikeusasiamies.fi.
Legal problems related to the oversight of restrictions on public gatherings
Parliamentary Ombudsman Jääskeläinen has taken notice of an instruction letter issued by the National Police Board of Finland which includes comprehensive guidelines for the police in restricting public gatherings. He took the initiative to investigate this letter and the actions of the police in overseeing the restrictions on public gatherings.
The case concerns:
1) whether the instruction letter presents unduly expansive interpretations of the decisions issued by the Regional State Administrative Agencies concerning restrictions on public gatherings,
2) whether the viewpoints stated in the instruction letter concerning the application of the Police Act to prevent the spread of a communicable disease are sustainable, and
3) whether it is necessary to improve the legislation related to restrictions on public gatherings from the perspective of the police.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman has asked the Ministry of the Interior to obtain information from the National Police Board of Finland and to issue a statement of its own. He has also reserved the opportunity for the Ministry of Justice to issue a statement on this matter.
For further information, see the legal advisor’s memorandum, 2678/2020 (in Finnish)
For further details on both matters, contact Juha Haapamäki, Principal Legal Adviser, on +358 9 432 3334.