Monday, May 17, 2010

Legal Aid in Finland

A couple of weeks ago, a [foreign] student in Finland asked me a question: where do you turn to if you lend someone a hugh amount of money and he is unwilling to repay the debt? I immediately knew the question was about debt recovery, but unfortunately, I did not have an answer to the question. His question reminded me of the bitter truth that in Finland, many do not know where to turn to - for protection under the law. Not surprisingly, I made it my mission to find an answer to this important question. Considering the fact that many people cannot afford an attorney, you would agree that legal aid in Finland is indispensable.

The right to legal aid in Finland is guaranteed under Section 21 of the Constitution - which provides everyone with protection under the law! It therefore follows that in Finland, if you cannot afford a lawyer (in an event where you need legal assistance), you reserve the right to legal aid - a situation where the state partially or fully covers the cost of hiring a lawyer.

As obvious as this may seem, many people in Finland, especially immigrants, are not aware about the availability of legal aid in this Scandinavian country. This explains why many violations of the rights of this vulnerable group of people go unheard by a well-constituted court of law, despite the availability of legal aid in English language - in a land where Finnish and Swedish are the official languages.

In Finland, if you cannot afford an attorney, legal aid is readily available in any sort of legal matter - including assistance to creditors (debt recovery). Legal aid is only unavailable to companies, associations, corporations etc. It is worth mentioning that you are not eligible for legal aid if your insurance covers legal expenses. But there are exceptions to this rule.

Is legal aid in Finland free of charge?

The cost of legal aid in Finland depends on your financial situation: monthly income, assets and monthly expenses. The amount of money you pay is determined by the amount of income you have left, after your monthly expenses are reduced from your monthly income. However, keep in mind that if you have no means of income, legal aid is free of charge.

In Finland, there are numerous Public Legal Aid Offices. Make sure you go through the contact information of legal aid offices and pick the most convenient one. Personally, I like the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Legal Aid Office, locate at Mannerheimintie 4, 6th floor, 00100 Helsinki. I like this office because it is very accessible - located in the heart of the city centre - opposite the Swedish Theatre; next to Clas Ohlson.

My wish for the student - whose question inspired this article - is that he gets legal aid for debt recovery.

Visit the Legal Aid website for details about legal aid in Finland.

*Photo by dweekly

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