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HS: President Niinistö rejects Chancellor of Justice nominee – ministry changes candidate

The Ministry of Justice has unexpectedly decided to change its next Chancellor of Justice nominee, according to Helsingin Sanomat. President Sauli Niinistö is said to have been dissatisfied with Veli-Pekka Viljanen as a choice for the post.

Tuomas Pöysti.
Doctor of Laws Tuomas Pöysti, the reported new nominee for Chancellor of Justice. Image: Yle

The Ministry of Justice has reportedly unexpectedly decided to change its next Chancellor of Justice nominee from professor Veli-Pekka Viljanen to Doctor of Laws Tuomas Pöysti, according to sources in Helsingin Sanomat.

HS writes that President Sauli Niinistö was unhappy with Viljanen as the Justice Ministry's candidate. The nomination issue was removed from the Council of State's general meeting agenda on April 19, allegedly due to the President's refusal to accept Viljanen as the Ministry's nominee.

President Niinistö commented on the switch by underlining his right to choose whomever he wishes for the post, regardless of whom the ministry picks.

"The President of the Republic appoints the Chancellor of Justice. This duty to "intervene" in the matter is based on the constitution," the President said via his communications chief. "[I am] waiting for the government's nomination, and [do] not know who it is."

Niinistö spoke to Prime Minister Juha Sipilä about his preference, and Sipilä took steps to remove the issue from the Council meeting's minutes – according to HS.

New nominee could face problems

Tuomas Pöysti currently works as an Undersecretary of State; the coming social service and health care reform ("sote") and regional government are among his responsibilities.

That means that he would be disqualified from handling or voting on issues related to the reform if he becomes the next Chancellor.

Professor Viljanen is one of Finland's leading constitutional law experts, and has consulted with Parliament's constitutional affairs committee for years. He is also known to favour human rights in his legal interpretation, having had a hand in drafting the reform on fundamental rights in 1995.

"This situation is not in error and no law has been broken," comments administrative law professor Olli Mäenpää from the University of Helsinki. "This type of handling, where a Ministry nominee is contested by a politician, used to be commonplace, though the practice is usually no longer adhered to."

The current Chancellor of Justice, Jaakko Jonkka, is expected to retire by the end of April. The new Chancellor was meant to start work in early May, but it remains unclear when the appointment will be made.

Finland has two independent supreme guardians of law: the Chancellor of Justice of the Government, appointed by the President of the Republic, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman elected by the Parliament. The Chancellor of Justice works in connection with the Government, and supervises the lawfulness of the official acts of the Government, the ministries and the President of the Republic.

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