Opening speech by Timo Esko, President of the Supreme Court, Annual Conference of the European Association of Psychology and Law, 26-29 June 2018 Turku, Finland
Mme President, Mr Chairman, Esteemed Mme Chancellor, Distinguished invited guests, Ladies and Gentlemen!
I congratulate you for having chosen the city of Turku as the venue of this Annual Conference. Not only is Turku the leading Finnish research center of forensic psychology but Turku is also the city where the first Court of appeal was founded in Finland by the Swedish king Gustaf II Adolf in 1623.
Turku happens to be also my home city and I hope that you can take a deeper look in Turku also outside the professional Conference program. The summerlike nature and the medieval history of the city can offer experiences you can remember even in the cold winter days.
The Supreme Court of Finland, which I now represent, is celebrating its 100 years anniversary this year. If I have understood it correctly, the year 1879 has been of great importance in the forensic psychology as the world’s first laboratory of experimental psychology was established in that year in the city of Leipzig, Germany. Our Supreme Court is thus younger than forensic psychology as an independent discipline of science, but not very much.
Although forensic psychology and the Finnish Supreme Court could have had a long cohabitation, that has not been the case. As a matter of fact, it is only since the beginning of this century that Supreme Court has given precedents of special interest in the field of forensic psychology. Of course, we can show a long history in the psychiatric examination of the mental state of defendants in criminal cases. But, of course, this belongs to the field of medicine and falls outside the scope of this Conference.
One can only guess, why the expertise of forensic psychology has only seldom found its way to the Supreme Court. The rules regulating the proceedings in the Court cannot have been an obstacle. Contrary to many Central European Supreme courts, it is not only questions of law that are adjudicated by the Finnish Supreme Court. Questions relating to facts and evaluation of evidence also fall within the jurisdiction of our Court. Evidence is evaluated freely and the Court assess the relevance, admissibility and reliability of each evidence separately.
All the members of the Finnish courts of justice are lawyers. If some other than legal expertise is needed, experts outside the court can be invoked to be heard. Of course, in some proceedings it meets the case, if the parties have submitted to the court relevant articles or other scientific material of general nature written by experts. In practice, Supreme Court has a long time used statements of medical experts in cases relating to brain damage caused by employment accidents.
Chapter 17 of the Code of Judicial Procedure, entitled Evidence, has been amended as of the 1st of January, 2016. The amendment includes a general definition of an expert witness. He or she is heard regarding empirical rules requiring special knowledge as well as regarding their application to the circumstances that arise in the case, whereas a witness account is focused on the actual things the witness himself has observed.
The main rule in Finnish law is that expert witnesses are not heard in person before the court. An expert shall give a detailed account on the findings in his or her investigation and, on the basis of the account, a substantiated statement on the question put to him or her. There are, however, cases where an expert witness is heard before the court in person. This may be necessary, for example, in order to remove ambiguities, deficiencies or inconsistencies in the statement.
Our rules make it understandable, that you are probably not going to see any dueling psychologists in a Finnish courtroom. Nevertheless, it is not quite impossible.
The history of forensic psychology is full of famous and innovative researchers and includes a long line of exciting, even thrilling court cases. In Finland, the courts have not been able to offer the people this kind of news and entertainment this far. However, if you want to find exciting cases where forensic psychology has played an important role, you do not need to go longer than to Sweden. I believe that the Swedish cases Thomas Quick and Kevin have been discussed word-wide by forensic psychologists.
No Finnish court case has received such publicity as the Swedish ones. However, in 2013 the Supreme Court issued two subsequent judgments in cases where forensic psychology relating to credibility of witness accounts played an important role. The first one of these cases, number 96 of 2013 (KKO 2013:96) was on coercion on a sexual act and the other one, number 97 of 2013 (KKO 2013:97) on sexual abuse of a child. In the first case the accused person was found guilty, in the second one he was acquitted. When evidence was evaluated, a considerable amount of literature on forensic psychology was taken into account.
Ladies and gentlemen! I have understood that lawyers and psychologists have not always been on good terms. On one side it has been said that psychologists do not have any comprehension of legal problems and on the other side it has been claimed that lawyers fumble blindly when they should evaluate oral evidence. May it be as it is, I am happy to see that in this Conference the members of the two professions are sitting friendly shoulder to shoulder.
I think that we all share some values that are essential in the work done in the courtrooms. The procedural truth to which the court has ended up in a trial should be equal to the truth in the real life. I think that we lawyers have learnt from the psychologists that this goal will be reached more probably, if we take into account how the witness statement has emerged, if we take into account alternative hypotheses and if we know that credibility assessment should be based on the statement, not on the appearance.
Distinguished psychologists and lawyers, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all a pleasant and successful Conference!