Criminal law

Criminal law is the body of law that regulates questions related to criminal liability. Crime and punishment are the basic concepts of criminal law. A crime is an act or a failure to act that has been criminalised under the law.  By criminalising a certain act, society shows that it deems the act reprehensible and aims to prevent and decrease the commission of these acts. The premise in a state governed by the rule of law is that there must be serious societal grounds for criminalising an act (the principle of last resort in the application of criminal law).

The Criminal Code includes the definitions of different offences i.e. the essential elements of the key types of offences, such as sexual offences, offences against life and health, offences against property, economic offences and environmental offences. In addition to the Criminal Code, penal provisions are also laid down in other legislation. Provisions on the most serious offences, i.e. those for which imprisonment may be imposed as a punishment, are mainly laid down in the Criminal Code.

In addition to the essential elements of different offences, the Criminal Code contains provisions on the general principles of criminal liability, such as the age limit for criminal liability (15 years), criminal responsibility, imputability (intent and negligence), grounds for exemption from liability (for example self-defence and certain mistakes), and attempt and complicity.

Provisions on the essential elements of offences and also other provisions concerning criminal liability must be sufficiently clearly defined (the principle of legality in criminal law).

The Ministry of Justice is in most cases responsible for drafting amendments to the Criminal Code. If some other ministry has drafted a criminal law provision as part of a legislative project within its area of responsibility, the Ministry of Justice usually participates in the drafting also in this case by issuing an opinion, for example.

The European Union has affected our criminal justice system. An EU directive may, for example, oblige Member States to criminalise certain behaviour. The Ministry of Justice participates in the preparation of EU criminal legislation in various Union bodies and drafts the necessary amendments to the national legislation.

The Ministry of Justice also participates in the preparation of international treaties including criminal law provisions and in the national implementation of these treaties.

For more information on punishments and other sanctions, see the page Criminal sanctions