An order for the production of documents is an obligation to bring or present documents in a court proceeding
A request for production is a legal tool used to gain access to physical items, electronic data, and documents held by the opposing party in a legal case. Its purpose is to obtain valuable information about any relevant evidence they possess.
In Finland, according to the Finnish Code of Judicial Procedure, the court can order the production of an object or document, or the production of a document for inspection, if the object or document could be of significance as proof or if the conducting of an inspection could be of significance in obtaining proof.
To succeed in obtaining the requested items or documents, certain criteria established by law must be met. These include providing sufficient identification of the document or object, establishing that the person against whom the request is made has possession of it, and demonstrating its relevance as evidence.
The possessor of the document
The law states that a request for documents can be made to the “person in question,” referring to the individual who possesses the document or object that needs to be presented in court. This means that the obligation to produce can be imposed on anyone who has possession of the document. The obligation can also be directed towards parties not directly involved in the legal proceedings or even a public authority.
To fulfill the obligation to produce, it must be demonstrated that the document is actually in the possession of the person from whom production is sought. Actual possession implies that the person has the authority to decide whether to disclose the documents. For instance, while a person’s tax assessment may be held by the Tax Administration, if the person still has control over and access to their own assessment, the request for the document can be directly addressed to them.
Complex ownership structures can sometimes create practical difficulties. Sometimes it is unclear which natural person controls a document or which entity within a group of companies, such as a parent company, sister company, or subsidiary, holds a particular business document. According to the Finnish Limited Liability Companies Act, the starting point is to distinguish ownership and management of the company, ensuring that the claim for production can be attributed to the correct party. The burden of proving possession rests with the party claiming the right to access the document. The person in question must be given an opportunity to present their case before an order is issued.
When making a request for the production of a document, it is crucial to provide sufficient details for the recipient of the production order to comply with it and, if necessary, enforce it. The document should be easily discoverable and distinguishable from similar documents held by the person in possession. For instance, if it’s a contract, the claimant should ideally identify the parties involved, the date of the contract, and its subject matter, such as a deed of sale or lease agreement.
The identification process should enable an assessment of whether a specific document is relevant as evidence in the case. It is also important for applying any prohibition on referencing certain evidence. Simply indicating the document type or subject matter is not enough for proper identification. “Fishing for evidence,” where a claimant attempts to obtain random documents without any knowledge of what they contain or how they relate to their claim, is not acceptable.
However, the request for identification should not be impossible or unreasonably difficult for the claimant. Flexibility in interpreting the identification request is necessary to establish the truth and ensure justice is served. The goal is to strike a balance between providing specific details and allowing for a reasonable and practical process.
Importance as evidence
The threshold for the relevance of evidence is low. It is enough for the evidence to potentially provide valuable information related to the case and requiring proof. The law requires the court to exclude evidence that is irrelevant or otherwise unnecessary. When making an application, the applicant should clearly explain the reasons why the facts that may be uncovered by the requested document are important and how they are relevant to the ongoing dispute.
The right to refuse a request for a document
A person who has the right to refuse to provide testimony in a court hearing is not obligated to hand over an object or document if it contains confidential or privileged information. Additionally, it is generally acceptable to refuse to provide evidence related to business or trade secrets. When a person declines to testify or produce a document, they must provide reasons for their refusal.
In disputes between companies, the protection of trade secrets is often invoked. However, under certain circumstances, the protection of trade secrets may be overridden. Factors such as the nature of the case, the significance of the evidence for the case’s outcome, the consequences of its disclosure, and other relevant circumstances are considered. The importance of the nature of the case is evaluated individually for each situation. The interests involved and the relevance of the evidence are taken into account. The availability of alternative evidence may also be relevant. The consequences of introducing the evidence are examined from the perspective of the person protected by the prohibition. Furthermore, considerations may arise regarding the handling of the evidence, such as whether it should be received confidentially and kept secret. Other factors, including the requirements of a fair trial, may also be taken into consideration.
The judge decides on the request for a preliminary ruling. If the application is approved, either in full or in part, the judge will issue an order for the production of the requested documents. If the party fails to comply with the request, the court can, upon application, issue an order compelling the party to produce the documents, under the threat of a penalty.
Typically, there is no separate appeal allowed specifically against the request for production. Instead, any appeal is made within the main proceedings. However, the court has the discretion to allow an individual appeal against the request in certain circumstances. This can occur if pursuing an appeal on the merits would be futile given the substance of the decision, or if the legal protection of the individual involved necessitates a separate right of appeal. In cases where there are exceptionally compelling reasons, the main proceedings will be put on hold until the appeal is resolved. Urgent attention is given to handling the appeal promptly.