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Criminal proceedings of offences against children should be prescribed urgent in law

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen considers that pretrial investigations should be prescribed urgent in cases where the victim is under the age of 18. Provisions concerning prosecution and criminal trials should also be reviewed in the same manner.

The Ombudsman looked into the matter at his own initiative when several cases emerged during the investigation of complaints and inspections where the pre-trial investigation of serious offences against children have been unreasonably long. As such, delays in pre-trial investigations are a common problem, but criminal processes concerning crimes against children have special characteristics. 

The Ombudsman stated that there is at present no provision specifying that the age of the victim should have an impact on the urgency of the pre-trial investigation, prosecution or court proceedings. Instead, this is expressly provided in legislation when the suspect is a minor.  

Legislators have last assessed legislation concerning the duration of the pre-trial investigation of offences against children in 2010 when the current Criminal Investigations Act was enacted. At that time, the urgency requirement was rejected based on very meagre grounds. After the adoption of the Criminal Investigations Act, the matter has been assessed in several contexts. In particular in the interests of the child it has been recommended considerably faster criminal processes. International agreements that Finland has committed to also require the effective investigation of crimes against children.

The Ombudsman believes that it would be justified to adopt provisions stipulating that the processing of offences against children be carried out as a matter of urgency for the entire criminal procedure when the victim is under the age of 18. This should apply at least to crimes against life, health and sexual self-determination. 

The Ombudsman informed the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior of the need to develop legislation. He asked them to report on any possible measures related to the matter at latest on 31 January 2021.

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen's decision no 5625/2020 has been published (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi. 

For more information on the matter, please contact Principal Legal Adviser Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 9 432 3334.