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Name of hospital unit in Tamperee is in English only

Ombudsman criticises discrimination against national languages

3.6.2010

Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen is critical of the fact that the name of one of the units of the Tampere University Central Hospital, Stroke Unit, is only in English, without a corresponding name in a national language and that the name is used as such in information meant for the public, such as signs.

The Ombudsman points out that under the Constitution the national languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish. Thus the name Stroke Unit is not compatible with the Constitution. Nor does it promote implementation of language-related fundamental rights and good administration as the Constitution requires.

The use of a name in English only is likewise not in compliance with the Language Act, which requires an authority to show the public, for example in signs and other provision of information, that it uses the language of its official area and to do so on its own initiative. In addition, the Act requires the authorities to protect the linguistic cultural tradition of the nation and promote the use of both national languages.

The Administrative Procedure Act, in turn, requires service and advice to be client-oriented and appropriate and the language used to be clear and understandable. Using the English language only does not meet these demands.

The Ombudsman underscores that, although the stance he adopts in his decision relates to the practice that an individual authority has pursued, his views are intended above all as a more general outlining of a point of principle. The name of an authority is not, all in all, a matter of trivial significance.

The Ombudsman's stance on the name of the Tampere University Central Hospital's unit arose from a complaint. The complaint was based on an article published in the daily newspaper Aamulehti. According to the article, the name has been in use since 1988, when the unit was established. The Ombudsman considers the case exceptional insofar as the unit has only a name in a foreign language without an equivalent in a national language being in parallel use.

The Ombudsman has informed the Pirkanmaa Joint Municipal Authority of his decision and asked it to notify him, by 31.8.2010, of what measures it may have prompted. He has also informed the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance's administrative development department and the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland of his decision.

Additional information will be provided by Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. + 358 (0)9 4321.