The most important function of the Supreme Court is to rule on important points of law in cases which are significant for the entire legal order, guiding thereby the administration of justice in future cases. These precedents are usually created in cases for which the applicable Acts of Parliament and Decrees do not provide a clear solution for a question of law or in which there is room for interpretation. Approximately 100-150 such precedents are decided each year.
Under the Finnish legal system a judicial precedent is not binding. Courts of appeal and even district courts may depart from earlier decisions made by the Supreme Court, for example when the social circumstances have considerably changed. In practice, however, precedents of the Supreme Court are followed in cases arising after the precedent has been created and involving a similar point of law. The Supreme Court may also itself depart from its earlier precedents, provided that the case is considered by an enlarged chamber (11 members) or by a full court.
Precedents in the Supreme Court cases are available in a specific database (FINLEX). The public has access to the precedents free of charge through the Internet, at www.finlex.fi. The panel of the Court deciding the precedents also makes the decisions concerning their publication.
The title of a judgment briefly sets forth the point of law to which the precedent applied and which constitutes the reason for its publication. In cases containing to precedents, the Supreme Court will also have to take a position on questions other than those outlined in the title. However, such positions are like any other judgements of the Court which do not create precedents. A precedent contributes to the development of national law by providing consistency in case law. The objective is that courts throuhgout the country interpret the law in a uniform manner and apply legal principles by means of consistent assessment and deliberation. Precedents are also used in research, for the purpose of analysing the contents of existing law.