Civil Matters - General Information

International legal assistance may be divided in to legal assistance in civil matters and in criminal matters. This section contains information on legal assistance in civil matters. Petitionary matters and disputes under private law are civil matters. In other words, criminal and administrative matters are not civil matters.

International legal assistance refers to the cooperation between judicial authorities of different countries in cases with cross-border dimensions. A need for international legal assistance usually emerges in cases where the defendant or a witness in court proceedings resides abroad. As a consequence, traditional forms of legal assistance include service of documents, taking of evidence and requests for information on foreign law. Nowadays, there is also an increasing amount of cooperation between judicial authorities in cross-border family law matters.

Most often, requests for legal assistance and the provision of legal assistance are based on international instruments. Key actors in the field of judicial cooperation are the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations. International instruments may be multilateral treaties, regional agreements or bilateral agreements. Cooperation between the EU Member States is usually based on EU regulations. These instruments oblige the contracting states to provide legal assistance to the requesting state authorities under certain agreed conditions. The agreements and regulations also establish uniform procedures for drawing up and submitting requests for legal assistance, which makes it easier and faster for the parties to receive assistance. At the same time, the provisions laid down in the agreements and regulations enhance the legal protection of the parties in court proceedings. On the other hand, legal assistance may in many cases be provided by virtue of the national legislation or mere international courtesy.

Requests from one Nordic country or EU Member State to another are transmitted directly from the competent authority of the requesting state to the competent authority of the requested state. Between other countries, requests are usually submitted by one Central Authority to another.

The Ministry of Justice has a special position in the practical implementation of the international cooperation, as it functions as the Central Authority for the purposes of several international conventions in Finland. The Ministry is tasked with submitting and receiving requests for legal assistance in cases where direct contacts between the authorities are not permissible. Furthermore, the Central Authority follows the developments in the field of international treaties and guides and trains others in the application of the treaties. The work of the Central Authority is mainly based on active participation in the networks and working groups in the field.