[Source: Ministry of Justice, Finland]
Sámi Language Act
Chapter 1 — General provisions
Section 1 — Purpose of the Act
The purpose of this Act is to ensure, for its part, the constitutional
right of the Sámi to maintain and develop their own language
This Act contains provisions on the right of the Sámi to use
their own language before the courts and other public authorities, as
well as on the duty of the authorities to enforce and promote the linguistic
rights of the Sámi.
The goal is to ensure the right of the Sámi to a fair trial
and good administration irrespective of language and to secure the linguistic
rights of the Sámi without them needing specifically to refer
to these rights.
Section 2 — Scope of application
The following public authorities shall be subject to the provisions
of this Act:
- the municipal organs of Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä, and
Utsjoki, as well as the joint municipal authorities where one or more
of the said municipalities are members;
- the courts and State regional and district authorities whose jurisdiction
covers the said municipalities in full or in part;
- the provincial government of Lapland and the organs attached to
- the Sámi Parliament, the Advisory Board for Sámi
Affairs and a village meeting referred to in section 42 of the Skolt
- the Chancellor of Justice of the Government and the Parliamentary
- the Consumer Ombudsman and the Consumer Complaints Board, the Ombudsman
for Equality and the Council for Equality, the Data Protection Ombudsman
and the Data Protection Board, and the Ombudsman for Minorities;
- the Social Insurance Institution and Farmers’ Social Insurance
- the State administrative authorities that hear appeals against
decisions of administrative authorities referred to above.
This Act applies also to administrative procedure under the Reindeer
Husbandry Act (848/1990) and the Reindeer Husbandry Decree (883/1990)
in the State authorities and herding cooperatives whose jurisdiction
covers the Sámi homeland in full or in part, as well as in
the Reindeer Herders’ Association.
Sections 17 and 18 contain provisions on the application of this Act
on State enterprises, companies and private entities; section 30 contains
provisions on the application of this Act on ecclesiastical authorities.
The special provisions applicable in the Sámi homeland appear
in chapter 3.
Section 3 — Definitions
For the purposes of this Act:
- (1) the Sámi language is defined as the languages
of Inari Sámi, Skolt Sámi or Northern Sámi, depending
on the language used or the main target population;
- (2) a Sámi is defined as a Sámi individual
as referred to in section 3 of the Act on the Sámi Parliament
(974/1995; laki saamelaiskäräjistä);
- (3) the Sámi homeland is defined as the Sámi
homeland referred to in section 4 of the Act on the Sámi Parliament;
- (4) an authority is defined as a court and another public
authority, a herding cooperative and the Reindeer Herders’ Association,
as referred to in section 2, subsections 1 and 2.
Chapter 2 — Linguistic rights
Section 4 — Right of the Sámi to use the Sámi
language before the authorities
A Sámi has the right to use the Sámi language, in his
or her own matter or in a matter where he or she is being heard, before
any authority referred to in this Act.
An authority must not restrict or refuse to enforce the linguistic
rights provided in this Act on the grounds that the Sámi knows
also some other language, such as Finnish or Swedish.
Section 5 — Linguistic rights of a legal person before the
A corporation and a foundation whose language of record is Sámi
has the right to use its language of record before the authorities;
the provisions in section 4 on the right of a Sámi to use the
Sámi language apply, in so far as appropriate, to this right.
Correspondingly, an educational institution whose language of instruction
is Sámi has the right to use the Sámi language as provided
in subsection 1.
Section 6 — Use of the Sámi language in representative
The Sámi members of the representative bodies of the municipalities
of Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä and Utsjoki have the right
to use the Sámi language in meetings and in written statements
to be appended to the record. The same provision applies to the Sámi
members of State Boards, Commissions, working groups and corresponding
multi-member bodies in the Sámi homeland and, when matters of
special concern to the Sámi are being discussed, also outside
the Sámi homeland. Correspondingly, a Sámi participating
in a meeting of the Reindeer Herders’ Association or its committee
has the right to use the Sámi language in the meeting.
When necessary, interpretation shall be arranged for a meeting referred
to above in this section.
Section 7 — Right to declare Sámi as mother tongue
in the Population Register
A Sámi resident in Finland in accordance with the Municipality
of Residence Act (201/1994) has the right to declare Sámi as
his or her mother tongue for purposes of the Population Register.
Section 8 — Official communications
An authority shall use also the Sámi language in its communications
addressed to the public.
Official advertisements, notices and promulgations and other information
releases to the public, as well as signs and forms intended for use
by the public, with their instructions, shall in the Sámi homeland
be prepared and issued also in the Sámi language.
However, the official notices and notifications issued by a District
Court, a judge, the State District Office, a department of the same,
an independent Office in a State District, or an official of one of
the same in a matter pertaining to an individual interest may on discretion
be issued solely in the Finnish language, if the use of the Sámi
language is manifestly unnecessary.
In State authorities other than those referred to in section 2, subsections
1 and 2, the advertisements, notices, promulgations, information releases
and forms with instructions, as referred to in subsection 1, shall be
prepared and issued also in the Sámi language when they mainly
concern the Sámi or when there otherwise is a special reason
for the same.
The notification cards prepared for elections and referenda shall
not be prepared in the Sámi language, except for the cards referred
to in section 24 of the Act on the Sámi Parliament.
Section 9 — Acts, other statutes, legislative proposals and
Acts of primary concern to the Sámi, as well as other such
statutes, treaties and other instruments and notifications published
in the Statute Book of Finland, shall on the decision of the Government
or the pertinent Ministry be published also as a Sámi translation.
The same provision applies to orders, guidelines, decisions and notifications
published in the document series of a Ministry or another State authority.
Legislative proposals and reports or their summaries prepared and
issued by a Ministry or a State Commission, working group or a corresponding
body shall on the decision of the Ministry be published also in the
Sámi language, if they are of primary concern to the Sámi
or if there otherwise is a special reason for the same.
Section 10 — Use of the Sámi language as the working
language of an authority
An authority whose activities concern solely the Sámi may use
the Sámi language as a working language in parallel with Finnish.
Chapter 3 — Provisions applicable in the Sámi
Section 11 — Special duties
The authorities referred to above in section 2, subsection 1, shall
in the offices and other premises located in the Sámi homeland
also observe the provisions in sections 12–16.
Section 12 — Right to use the Sámi language before the
When dealing with the authorities, a Sámi has the right to use
the Sámi or the Finnish language, as he or she may choose. The
Language Act (423/2003) contains provisions on the right to use the
A Sámi has the same right before State authorities also outside
the Sámi homeland, when these authorities are hearing appeals
against decisions of authorities within the Sámi homeland.
Section 13 — Right to receive documents containing a decision
and other documents in the Sámi language
A Sámi party to a matter shall on request be issued with an
application for a summons, a judgment, a decision, a record or another
document in the Sámi language in so far as the matter concerns
his or her rights, interests or obligations, except where the document
is manifestly irrelevant to the resolution of the matter. If a Sámi
party to the matter has used the Sámi language, written or spoken,
when contacting an authority dealing with the matter, the document containing
a decision shall be issued in the Sámi language, to the same
extent and under the same conditions, without the need for a separate
request to this effect.
However, a document containing a decision shall be issued merely as
an official translation into the Sámi language if there are several
parties to the matter and they are not unanimous regarding the use of
the Sámi language.
Section 14 — Knowledge of the Sámi language and qualification
When recruiting, an authority shall see to it that the personnel in
each office or other premises can provide customer service also in the
Sámi language. In addition, the authority shall provide training
or take other measures in order to ensure that the personnel have the
knowledge of the Sámi language necessary for the performance
of the functions of the authority.
Knowledge of the Sámi language may be required as a qualification
for personnel of a State authority by Act or, on the basis of an Act,
by a Government Decree or a Decree of the pertinent Ministry, and for
personnel of a municipal authority as provided in the Municipalities
Act (365/1995), unless such a qualification requirement already appears
in an Act or a provision adopted on the basis of an Act. Knowledge of
the Sámi language shall be considered a special merit also in
the event that it has not been required as a qualification for the office,
position or function in question.
The provisions of the Act on the Knowledge of Languages Required of
Personnel in Public Bodies (424/2003) apply, in so far as appropriate,
on the qualification requirements in the Sámi language. Knowledge
of the Sámi language can be demonstrated by an examination referred
to in the Act on Public Language Examinations (668/1994), by an examination
passed in the context of studies, or by studies in an institution of
Section 15 — Duty of the authorities to use the Sámi
In their notices, summonses and letters that are sent to a party or
to a person who under law is to be informed of a pending matter or a
matter about to become pending, the authorities shall, regardless of
the language of proceedings, use the language of the recipient, if this
is known or can reasonably be ascertained, or use both the Finnish and
the Sámi language.
An authority shall use the Sámi language, without a separate
request, when responding to written communications in the Sámi
The authorities shall also otherwise promote the use of the Sámi
language in their activities.
Section 16 — Use of the Sámi language in municipal documents
In municipalities where the proportion of Sámi speakers in the
population has on 1 January of the preceding year exceeded one third,
the municipal organs shall use also the Sámi language in records
and other documents not to be issued to private parties, but being of
general concern. Also in other municipalities, the municipal organs
shall use the Sámi language in such documents to the extent deemed
Section 17 — State enterprises and State- or municipality-owned
A State enterprise and a service-producing company in which the State
or one or more of the municipalities referred to in section 2, subsection
1, paragraph 1, exert authority, shall in the Sámi homeland provide
the linguistic service referred to in this Act and provide information
to the public also in the Sámi language to the extent warranted
by the nature and context of the activity and in a manner that cannot
be deemed unreasonable to the enterprise or company when assessed as
a whole. What is provided in this Act regarding authorities applies
also to a State enterprise that attends to a function of an authority.
Section 18 — Obligation of a private entity to provide linguistic
If a public administrative function has by Act or on the basis of an
Act been assigned to a private entity, the provisions of this Act on
an authority apply to the entity when operating in the Sámi homeland.
If the assignee of such a function in the Sámi homeland is determined
by the decision or other measure of an authority or by contract between
the assignee and the authority, the authority shall ensure that linguistic
service is provided in the performance of the function as provided in
this Act. The authority shall ensure the same also when assigning a
task other than a public administrative function to a private entity
in the Sámi homeland, if the standard of service required in
this Act so necessitates.
Chapter 4 — Right to interpretation and translation
Section 19 — Right to interpretation
When the Sámi language is being used in the oral hearing of
a matter in accordance with this Act, the matter shall be assigned to
an official with knowledge of the Sámi language. If the authority
does not have an official with knowledge of the Sámi language
to take care of the matter, the authority shall arrange for interpretation
free of charge, or self see to the interpretation.
Section 20 — Right to a translation of a document containing
a decision or another document
If an application for a summons, a judgment, a decision, a record or
another document in an administrative matter, a matter of administrative
judicial procedure, or a criminal matter has been drafted in Finnish
or Swedish, the authority shall on request, free of charge, give a Sámi
party to the matter an official translation into the Sámi language
of such a document in so far as the matter relates to his or her rights,
interests or obligations, except if the document is manifestly irrelevant
to the resolution of the matter. The translation shall be attached to
the document containing a decision or other document.
If a translation error is noted in an official translation, the authority
shall correct it unless its correction is manifestly unnecessary. In
such a case the Sámi party shall be given the corrected document
free of charge.
Section 21 — Right to a translation from the Sámi Language
An authority, which in accordance with this Act is to issue a document
containing a decision as an official translation into the Sámi
language or as a Sámi-language original, has the right to obtain
the translation from the Sámi Language Bureau, unless the translation
can conveniently be procured from other sources. The authority has the
corresponding right to a translation into Finnish of a Sámi-language
document addressed to it.
Section 22 — Liability for the costs of translation and interpretation
If a State authority is to give or issue a document containing a decision
or another document to a party as a Sámi-language original or
as a translation into the Sámi language, or make use of interpretation,
the State shall bear the costs of drafting or translating the document
or of the interpretation.
A municipality, a joint municipal authority, a diocese and a parish
shall bear the costs of drafting or translating a document containing
a decision or another document referred to in sections 4–6, 12,
13, 15, 16, and 30, and of interpretation.
Section 23 — Procuring a translation at the expense of the
If a Sámi-language document has been delivered to an authority
of the State, a municipality or a joint municipal authority or to an
ecclesiastical authority even though the customer does not have the
right to use the Sámi language before the authority, the authority
shall, when necessary, hear the opinion of the customer and then procure
a translation of the document into the language of the authority at
the expense of the customer.
Chapter 5 — Measures to promote linguistic
Section 24 — The obligation of an authority to secure linguistic
An authority shall in its activity and on its own ensure that the linguistic
rights guaranteed in this Act are secured in practice. The authority
shall show to the public that it provides service also in the Sámi
An authority may provide also better linguistic service than what
is required in this Act.
Section 25 — Paid leave of absence and liberty from work for
studies in the Sámi language
An official of a State authority referred to in section 2, subsection
1, whose jurisdiction lies completely within the Sámi homeland,
has the right to paid leave of absence for studies towards a knowledge
in the Sámi language necessary for the performance of the service,
if the duration of his or her service with that authority has been at
least one year. An employee of such an authority has the corresponding
right to liberty from work for the same purpose.
A person in the service of a municipality or a joint municipal authority
referred to in section 2, subsection 1, or of a State authority referred
to in section 2, subsection 1, paragraphs 2 and 3, whose jurisdiction
lies partially within the Sámi homeland, as well as a person
in the service of the Reindeer Herders’ Association, may be granted
paid leave of absence or liberty from work for studies towards a knowledge
in the Sámi language necessary for the performance of the service,
if the duration of the service has been at least one year. Other conditions
for the leave of absence or liberty from work may be laid down by a
It may be set as a condition for the leave of absence or liberty from
work that the person enters into a written contract with the authority
to the effect that he or she will remain in the service of the authority
within the Sámi homeland for a given period, not to exceed one
year, after the end of the leave of absence or liberty from work. A
term may be taken into the contract to the effect that the official
must reimburse the authority with at most the amount of the direct costs
of the language training, if the official during the contract period
resigns or is given notice for a reason arising from him- or herself
other than illness.
Section 26 — Sámi Language Bureau
The Sámi Parliament shall have a Sámi Language Bureau
for translation and for other tasks provided in this Act; the Bureau
shall have its premises within the Sámi homeland.
More detailed provisions on the Sámi Language Bureau shall
be issued by Government Decree.
Section 27 — Sámi language advisor
The Provincial Government of Lapland and the State regional and district
authorities in the Sámi homeland may have Sámi language
advisors. The services of an advisor shall be free of charge to the
Section 28 — Supervision and monitoring
Each authority supervises application of this Act within its own area
The Sámi Parliament monitors the application of this Act and
may issue recommendations in questions related to language legislation
and take initiatives in order to rectify defects it has observed.
Section 29 — Reporting
For each term of the Parliament, the Sámi Language Bureau and
the Sámi Language Council appointed by the Sámi Parliament
shall issue a report on the application of the legislation on the Sámi
language, on the enforcement of the linguistic rights of the Sámi
and on the development of language conditions, as provided in greater
detail by a Government Decree.
The Language Act contains provisions on the Government report on the
application of language legislation.
Chapter 6 — Miscellaneous provisions
Section 30 — Ecclesiastical authorities
The provisions in this Act on the use of the Sámi language
before State authorities apply also to the langage of the parties and
the language of documents containing a decision and other documents
in the diocesan office of the Diocese of Oulu and in the offices of
the parishes that fall completely or partially within the Sámi
homeland, unless the matter is to be considered an internal church matter
under the Church Act (1054/1993), as well as in the chancellery of the
Orthodox Diocese of Oulu.
The provisions in sections 1, 4, 5, 8, 20, and 24 of this Act apply
correspondingly to the Evangelical Lutheran parishes of Enontekiö,
Inari, Utsjoki and Sodankylä, unless the matter is to be considered
an internal church matter under the Church Act, as well as to the Orthodox
parish of Lapland.
Section 31 — State funding
An appropriation shall be included in the State budget for purposes
of State support to municipalities, parishes, herding cooperatives within
the Sámi homeland and private entities referred to in section
18 for covering the specific additional costs of applying this Act.
Section 32 — Status of the Sámi language in certain
Separate provisions apply to the right of the Sámi to receive
primary and lower secondary education in their mother tongue, to instruction
in the Sámi language, and to the status of the Sámi language
as a language of teaching, a discipline and a degree language.
The Act on Child Day-Care (36/1973) contains provisions on the right
of the Sámi to receive day-care in their mother tongue.
The authorities referred to in section 2, subsection 1, shall observe
the provisions of this Act in the application of the Act on the Status
and Rights of Patients (785/1992) and the Act on the Status and Rights
of Social Welfare Customers (812/2000).
Section 33 — More detailed provisions
More detailed provisions on the implementation of this Act shall be
issued by Government Decree.
Chapter 7 — Entry into force and transitional
Section 34 — Entry into force
This Act enters into force on 1 January 2004; it repeals the Act on
the Use of the Sámi Language before the Authorities (516/1991),
as later amended.
Measures necessary for the implementation of this Act may be taken
before its entry into force.
This Act shall be published in the Statute Book of Finland also in
translation to Inari Sámi, Skolt Sámi and Northern Sámi.
Section 35 — Transitional provisions
A reference in another Act or Decree to the repealed Act on the Use
of the Sámi Language before the Authorities shall after the entry
into force of this Act be considered a reference to this Act.
The provisions of the previous legislation continue to apply to matters
that have become pending before the entry into force of this Act, unless
the authority otherwise decides in view of the rights and interests
of the parties.