Professor Jukka Viljanen (University of Tampere) Gives Constitutional Law Presentation at CASS Rule of Law Conference in Beijing

In a further display of the growing links between legal scholars and institutions in China and the Nordic countries, Professor Jukka Viljanen of Finnish China Law Center member institution the University of Tampere was invited to give a presentation during the annual Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) international Rule of Law conference.

The theme of the 2017 conference was ‘Modes of Rule of Law and Modernization of State Governance’.

The 2017 conference, held on 17–18 November in Beijing, was divided into five thematic areas.

Professor Viljanen spoke on the theme ‘The Rule of Law, Constitution and State Governance’.

In his lecture, Professor Viljanen discussed the Finnish experience on amending the constitution, noting that Finnish constitutional laws were extensively reformed in 1980-90’s.

This progress was illustrated by the drafting of the 2000 Constitution. The Constitution was planned to endure over time and as the Constitutional Law Committee has stated, there should not be constant demand to review the Constitution.

Professor Jukka Viljanen speaking at CASS Rule of Law Forum, Beijing, November 2017 (photo credit: Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences).

Professor Viljanen outlined how the threshold to make changes to the constitution has increased. In order to make changes a wide societal consensus must be achieved. In Finnish political history, there has been a tradition of coalition governments and a requirement that approval by two parliaments, with general elections between them, is required. This ensures that all parties are involved in the drafting process of the Constitutional amendments.

‘The contemporary approach connects each review of the constitutional provisions to fundamental principles of the Constitution’, Professor Viljanen observed.

‘At the same time, it also highlights the need to follow our international human rights commitments’.

As Professor Viljanen explained, even in the case of surveillance laws, there are no ‘free hands’. Rather, national application of laws goes hand-in-hand with European supervision. The level of scrutiny is, of course, different in each specific circumstance.

A session during the CASS Rule of Law Conference, Beijing, 17–18 November 2018 (photo credit: Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences).

In his talk, Professor Viljanen also explained the pending process of amending the constitution in relation to surveillance laws, a ‘hot topic’ in Finland at the moment. The review was founded on the requirements set out by the European Convention on Human Rights.

‘National security as a legitimate aim traditionally affords a wide margin of appreciation to national authorities’, Professor Viljanen said.

‘However, there are also limits to this margin’.

In order to make the working proposal to be in line with the European case law, the failures that took place, for instance, in the Russian case of Roman Zakharov, serve as a telling reminder for the Finnish legislator.

‘This means that in addition to the textual re-formulation of the Constitution, the practice of the Constitutional Law Committee should follow closely the standards set out by the Strasbourg Court’, Professor Viljanen said.

‘The idea of the constitutional amendment is not to provide unrestricted mandate’, Professor Viljanen argued during his talk.

‘Rather, it is to seek a solution to questions regarding surveillance that are in accordance with European standards. This doctrinal link sets out certain detailed requirements that should be taken into account while preparing ordinary legislation regarding the surveillance’.

‘The Strasbourg Court’, Professor Viljanen said in closing, ‘acknowledges efforts to follow the established case law by stating that there needs to be “strong reasons” to substitute views of domestic authorities with its own views’.

Professor Viljanen was joined at the CASS Rule of Law Conference by Professor Kimmo Nuotio and Professor Sakari Melander, both from Finnish China Law Center member institution the University of Helsinki.

The international scope of the conference was reflected in the breadth of participants, with scholars in attendance from Peru, Russia, Italy, Poland, Brazil and other countries.