Oikeusministeri Henriksson Euroopan neuvoston oikeudellisen komitean kokouksessa
Distinguished members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, dear fellow Parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be able to address you on this important topic here at the Parliament in Helsinki this morning.
Corruption exists worldwide, in developed and developing countries alike and within all sectors of society. Regrettably, corruption also exists within the structures of the judiciary. Judicial corruption has many faces, including bribes being paid or contacts being used to influence the outcome of court rulings.
It goes without saying, that judicial corruption has serious consequences: it hampers access to justice as well as the right to a fair trial. As such, it undermines the rule of law, which is one of the corner stones of democracy. Furthermore, it means that the very institution which is supposed to reduce levels of corruption by holding wrong-doers to account is handicapped, which in turn reduces public trust in the judiciary and the political system as a whole. Judicial corruption, therefore, must be fought.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Corruption in general and judicial corruption more specifically can be counteracted if the will and the determination exists. Many actors and institutions have a role in counteracting corruption. Among these, I would like to highlight Parliaments, which play a key role when it comes to counteracting corruption in the national context.
Parliaments – first of all – are empowered to enact legislation, which means that they are able to establish the rules of integrity applicable to particular actors and institutions, as well as in society as a whole. As such, Parliaments lay down the rules with regard to acceptable and unacceptable behavior on the part of relevant actors and institutions. In practice, the legislative process opens up numerous opportunities to fight corruption:
- Anti-corruption legislation makes it possible to criminalize certain forms of corrupt behavior, and also provides for appropriate punishments and preventive measures.
- Oversight legislation empowers certain institutions to monitor those in power and hold them to account
- Freedom of information legislation allows for access to information about the behavior and actions of decision-makers as well as decision-making processes in general
- Legislation aimed at protecting whistle-blowers – that is individuals who report about abuses in good faith – increases the likelihood of getting information about abuses
- Legislation related to party-funding or electoral campaigns forces political actors and groups to declare their sources of funding, which in turn increases transparency and possibilities for accountability
These – of course – are but a few examples of how corruption can be combatted and prevented by means of legislation.
Parliaments – secondly – have an important oversight role of their own. Parliamentary committees and watchdog agencies such as Auditors General or Parliamentary Ombudsmen ensure that abuses are investigated and brought to the attention of Parliament and the public. Against the above, it is quite clear that the fight against corruption is dependent on the commitment and determination of Parliament and parliamentarians.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Parliaments – although key players when it comes to counteracting corruption – cannot fight corruption on their own, however. This applies to corruption within the judiciary, the public administration or any other level of society. Having provided for a legislative framework against corruption and contributed to the institutional framework aimed at counteracting this common enemy, other actors must step into the picture. These include of course Government, whose responsibility it is to execute the legislation that has been enacted, thus transforming words and intentions into actual deeds. Government also has a role when it comes to investigating the need for new and amended legislation. In the Finnish context, for instance, a working group appointed by the Ministry of Justice is currently looking into the need for legislation related to a particular form of corruption, namely trading in influence. The same working group is furthermore considering refining our legislation related to international bribery.
Numerous other actors also have a stake in the very important endeavor of fighting corruption. The judiciary has already been mentioned as a vital institution when it comes to holding perpetrators to account. I would also like to highlight the role of ordinary citizens and civil society organizations. Both can contribute to counteracting corruption by promoting high standards of moral integrity and by participating in the monitoring of decision-makers. I am sure we all agree that the active involvement of citizens in the fight against corruption as well as societal affairs in general is a vital element in a democratic state based on the rule of law, accountability, freedom of expression and the respect for citizens’ rights.
The involvement and rights of citizens, possibilities for accountability, the rule of law and issues related to equality are in fact issues which the European Union should promote more forcefully. The Finnish Government has called for confidence building measures in the EU, stating that disregard for the rule of law, violations of fundamental and human rights and discrimination of minorities have no place within the EU. I am glad that the Commission has recently published a new initiative to strengthen the rule of law in the EU, showing its commitment to step in if a systemic threat to the rule of law emerges in a country that is a member of the EU.
I am also very pleased about the fact that the European Union is scaling up its efforts to combat corruption and sincerely hope that measures to counteract corruption will be mainstreamed into all policy areas within the Union. Finland has highlighted the importance of such efforts being undertaken in cooperation with the Council of Europe, the UN, the OECD and other international actors engaged in counteracting corruption, stressing that anti-corruption work requires joint efforts as well as considerable determination.
Dear colleagues, I wish to conclude with a quote by the famous French political Philosopher Charles de Montesquieu: “It is not the young people that degenerate; they are not spoiled till those of mature age are already sunk into corruption”. I believe this statement I very true still today. It also points to the tremendous responsibility that for example we Parliamentarians have in setting the standards and show our determination to fight corruption by adhering to high moral standards and showing good example.
Thank you for your attention.