Juha Pöyhönen (ed.), An Introduction to Finnish Law (Helsinki: Kauppakaari/Finnish Lawyers Publishing, 2002), xxii + 582 pp., ISBN 952-14-0340-3, EUR 83.30.
In many countries, the subject area of comparative law is treated as a kind of appendix to the normal substance area of the law curriculum. Obviously, there are a multitude of reasons for this state of affairs; one particular reason, though, may be distinguished from the others. It has to do with the very nature of law. In short, law is about language; accordingly, in most cases a foreign law also introduces a foreign language. 'Comparative law is a field which by definition deals with and analyses the other, the different,' as Vivian Curran put it.(1)
The first problem encountered concerning the language while studying a foreign law and legal culture is notorious within the circles of comparatists. Countless are the remarks stressing the importance of language skills for those engaged in comparative law. The focal point in this discourse is quite effortlessly discerned; if one wishes to grasp the law of foreign systems comparatively, foreign language skills are needed. This is true especially if we are dealing with serious comparative law, i.e. a comparative study of law in a broad and academically demanding sense. Notwithstanding, even if we are dealing with 'light comparisons', the problem remains basically identical. There are simply not enough reliable or fresh sources available in English.
Nevertheless, even if one does not have extensive skills in foreign languages, there is no reason to fall into despair. There is an extensive English-language legal literature concerning the different legal systems of the world. Consequently, we are all very familiar with the type of 'Introduction to the Law of country X' books.(2) These are very helpful for those who dare to engage themselves in comparative study of law or, more modestly, wish to know more about foreign legal systems and law. Similarly, this book is useful for those Finnish lawyers and academics who try do describe the Finnish law to international audiences; to a certain extent, the hard labour of translating legal specialist language and key concepts is relieved.
An Introduction to Finnish Law (a revised edition of the 1993 version), edited by Professor Juha Pöyhönen, may not resolve the comparatist's language-related dilemma of understanding the other, however, it certainly is very beneficial for those foreign readers who hope to acquire a general yet detailed picture of Finnish law and the Finnish legal system. The book is not a comprehensive exposition of the Finnish system, but it does provide a fair and even accurate description of certain areas of Finnish law as it is today, seven years after joining the European Union. Accordingly, it is obviously of importance for those students of foreign law who desire to know more about Finnish law but are not, anyhow, really into the comparative study of law in the more demanding sense of the word. In other words, the book is a marvellous source of even detailed information, but only to a certain extent. So, for those who take the subject area of comparative law very seriously, the value of the book is a bit more modest. Even then, however, it does provide a good starting point for serious comparatists.
The volume consists of fourteen independent and separate chapters. They are separate as there are no cross-references between the chapters, although sometimes they deal with similar matters (for example the court system). The first two chapters briefly deal with the nature of Finnish legal thinking as well as sources of law and their importance. The remaining twelve chapters cover constitutional law, the law of obligation, business law, labour law, property law, intellectual property law, family and inheritance law, legal procedure, administrative law, social law, environmental law and tax law. From the important areas of law, only criminal law and international private and public law are not presented in the book.(3) All chapters have been written by Finnish experts, some of whom may even be regarded as leading experts in their respective fields of law.
From the point of view of a foreign reader, all chapters can be regarded as a trustworthy source of Finnish law, i.e. the information given is reliable and accurate. There is absolutely no reason to cast a shadow of doubt over the book in this sense. Nevertheless, some of the chapters are simply too short for their purpose, especially if the occasional reader has very little contextual information concerning the Finnish system, and - according to my experience - this is normally the case. The chapters dealing with family law, legal procedure, administrative law and environmental law are the most informative and detailed. For comparative law, especially the chapters including references in English, an English bibliography or bibliographical essay are useful. Unfortunately, most of the chapters do not include these at all. This is not something to be applauded in this type of book.(4) Comparatists are always after good additional sources and, even though the Internet today is indispensable, it does not completely replace the good old bibliographies in conventional books.
The book counts some six hundred pages, and the typography as well as the font size may kindly be described as a bit dense. The second revised edition has grown in size by almost two hundred pages. All this makes the basic conclusion easy: there is no better source of Finnish law in general available in English at this moment. Consequently, there is no competition.
Although there is no doubt that this book will not contribute to the literature of comparative law, there is something lacking. Foreign readers would be in a much better position to truly understand the content of the chapters if the general part had been more detailed and extensive. This enlargement could have taken place even at the expense of the chapters dealing with substantive law. Large chapters dealing with historical background and comparative contexts would have been almost elemental. An index and a list of abbreviations would also have been useful devices in this type of book. Meanwhile, when important contextual knowledge is scarce, it is quite likely that the readers may need other, complementary sources to understand the content of the chapters.(5) This introduction, however, is a good starting point.
1. V. Grosswald Curran, 'Dealing in Difference: Comparative Law's Potential for Broadening Legal Perspectives', Am.J.Comp.L. 46 (1998) 657.
2. To mention some examples: N. Foster, German Legal System & Laws (1996); C. Dadomo & S. Farran, The French Legal System (1996); and H. Oda, Japanese Law (1999). Also Ashgate's 'Laws of the Nations Series' should be mentioned here. It contains, e.g., C. Villiers, The Spanish Legal Tradition (1999) and T.G. Watkin, The Italian Legal Tradition (1997). There are also other Nordic introductory law books quite similar to the Finnish equivalent: B. Dahl, T. Melchior, L.A. Rehof and D. Tamm (eds.), Danish Law in a European Perspective(1996) and H. Tiberg, F. Sterzel and P. Cronhult (eds.), Swedish Law(1994).
3. However, see the fresh overall picture by H.T. Klami & E. Kuisma, Finnish Law as an Option: Private International Law in Finland (2001).
4. In comparison to the older version of this introductory book, i.e. J. Uotila (ed.), The Finnish Legal System (2nd edn. 1985), the reviewed book here appears to be less contextual. The earlier version contained bibliographical parts including not only sources in English but also sources in German and French.
5. For example, J. Selovuori (ed.), Power and Bureaucracy, as well as the predecessor of An Introduction to Finnish Law, i.e. The Finnish Legal System (1985) may be mentioned here. Also, the chapters dealing with Finland in D.N. MacCormick & R.S. Summers (eds.), Interpreting Statutes (1991) and D.N. MacCormick & R.S. Summers (eds.), Interpreting Precedents (1997) are very useful for comparatists. Also, The Finnish National Reports to the Congresses of the International Academy of Comparative Law (published by Finnish Lawyers Publishing) are a very useful source for a foreigner interested in Finnish law.