On 27 April 2017, the Finnish Government presented a bill (HE 43/2017 vp) proposing an extension of the areas in which leave to appeal (Fi. valituslupa) is in the appeals process in relation to decisions made on environmental and building permits.
What will change and when?
Currently, appeals against permit decisions made by the relevant authorities may be brought before the regional administrative courts, and appeals against decisions by the administrative courts may in turn be brought before the Supreme Administrative Court. To date, only a few types of permit decisions in environmental matters require leave to appeal in order for the case to be heard by the Supreme Administrative Court. The main amendments to the leave to appeal procedure proposed in the bill are the following:
- leave to appeal would be required in cases involving permits based on the Environmental Protection Act (Fi. ympäristönsuojelulaki), the Water Act (Fi. vesilaki) and the Land Extraction Act (Fi. maa-aineslaki); and
- leave to appeal would be required in most cases involving permits and zoning decisions under the Land Use and Building Act (Fi. maankäyttö- ja rakennuslaki) and certain permits under the Nature Conservation Act (Fi. luonnonsuojelulaki).
A few types of decisions under the above legislation would not require leave to appeal, namely those for which the appeals process is not specifically regulated. In these cases, the appeals process would be subject to the one referred to in the specific act, or the directly applicable Administrative Judicial Procedure Act (Fi. hallintolainkäyttölaki) or Local Government Act (Fi. kuntalaki). The most notable of these decisions are those made by the Ministry of the Environment pursuant to the Land Use and Building Act.
If the bill is approved, decisions made by regional administrative courts concerning, for example, environmental permits, water permits, and planning and building permits could only be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court where leave to appeal is granted. By introducing this extension of the scope of the leave to appeal procedure (which is essentially a limitation on the right to bring appeals before Finland's highest administrative court), the Government expects to reduce the number of appeals heard by the Supreme Administrative Court. The change is also expected to reduce the authorities' workload and the duration of the proceedings, and thereby minimize the costs incurred by the parties. These amendments would not amend the current appeals procedure per se, but only extend the scope of application of the leave to appeal procedure. The process of applying for leave to appeal and the requirements for granting such leave will continue to be regulated in the Administrative Judicial Procedure Act as before.
The new legislation is proposed to enter into force on 1 January 2018. After the preliminary debate on 4 May 2017, the bill was referred to the Environment Committee to which both the Constitutional Law Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee will issue statements. The bill is currently being discussed by these committees.
The proposed amendments constitute a significant extension of the use of the existing leave to appeal procedure. The extension should simplify the planning process for most construction and other projects requiring permits under relevant legislation, such as the construction of energy facilities and infrastructure. For example, appeals against zoning decisions (which traditionally have often caused delays) will require leave to appeal to be heard by the Supreme Administrative Court. Although all applications for leave to appeal will need to be decided by the Supreme Administrative Court, the proposed amendments would presumably still shorten the time of the appeals process, thereby also reducing costs due to fewer rounds of appeal. The extension of the leave to appeal procedure also emphasizes the importance of adjudication in the administrative courts, since it would be the only appellate body that a party has guaranteed access to.