1. Constitution and Legislation
The role of constitution
In constitutional democracies the Constitution (the Law of Laws as it has been called) creates the basis for the legal framework of societies. The constitution defines the general form of government and the separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial functions of society. For forest law – as for all laws – what is important is the legal order of governmental action and the delegation of ministries and other authorities to give rules and orders based on forest law. Of fundamental importance is the protection of individual rights and liberties, including the right to property and the protection of private property. This defines the borderline, for example, towards the restrictions concerning the rights of the forest owner, which can not be surpassed by forest law. Important aspects for forest law are also environmental provisions that are included in the constitution. For example, in 1995, Finland’s Constitution was amended by a new section, stating that:
“Responsibility for nature and its biodiversity, for the environment and for our cultural heritage is shared by all. Public authorities shall strive to ensure that everyone has the right to a healthy environment as well as the opportunity to influence decision-making that concerns the living environment.”
This last sentence (for example) has paved the way to participatory processes in forest policy making.
Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe have adopted new forest legislation ever since the political changes of the early 1990s. In most cases the development of new forest laws have been induced by constitutional changes in the transition process to market economies which has led to important land tenure reforms and privatisation in the forest sector.
The importance of forest legislation
Legislation is the most powerful instrument in forest policy. The fundamental task of forest legislation is to provide a solid basis and a long-term framework for forestry, and to define the basic goals for forestry and forest management. Secondly, (and just as importantly) is that within the democracy, legislation goes through a parliamentary process and a public discussion. Here different arguments are presented by scientists and professionals, stakeholders share viewpoints and interests, and citizen groups (including the public’s input) is to be taken into account. This long process with the need to balance different viewpoints and interests can (when properly done) create legislation that is acceptable and legitimate. In one way or another, legislation represents the democratic will and the voice of present society. This democratic process is the most important reason in the implementation of law.
Often, forest legislation consists of one basic law with several other more specific laws that are related to forestry organizations, associations, financing and other subjects. Sometimes forest laws are amended by lower-level laws called decrees, which compliment laws in more detail. Administrative rules and orders are based on these and other legislation. Forestry is usually affected by many other laws, like for example, environmental, agricultural and land-use planning laws. Sometimes there is coordination between the contents of different laws however this is not always the case.
Although forest acts in different countries represent different cultures, and sometimes different legislative traditions, basic forest acts usually have much in common.