Niina Mäntylä appointed Professor of Public Law: “If a citizen feels excluded from the decision-making process, it may lead to online targeting and shaming or civil disobedience”

Niina Mäntylä, who started as Professor of Public Law at the University of Vaasa in April, considers citizens’ right to express their opinions and to participate in decision-making very important in a state governed by rule of law. If opportunities to do so are not sufficiently protected, the need for influence may erupt through problematic or illegal means of participation, such as civil disobedience or online targeting and shaming.

– In the control of authority, the voice of the citizens and the opportunity to participate are important. The starting point of the European rule of law is democracy. Citizens who feel that they cannot get their voice heard in any other way may systematically seek to influence the actions of officials by inappropriate means.

At the heart of public law is the exercise and control of public authority, which is one of the basic preconditions for a functioning society.

– I am also interested in supervision in relation to this. When it comes to the weakest customer groups in administration, such as children, supervision is extremely important. This is because not everyone has equal access to legal remedies, such as lodging a complaint or an appeal and, without effective supervision, they may be unable to exercise their rights. In our research projects, we have highlighted, among other things, the need for systematic supervision in the basic education sector.

Pointing out problems in legal systems not enough

Control of public power also involves another theme that is important to Mäntylä: the liability of civil servants. The liability of civil servants is an important means of controlling the exercise of public authority and the legality of administration. Civil servants may be held liable if they have violated the law or their obligations arising from the civil service relationship, or if they have neglected their duties. This may mean, for example, criminal liability, liability for damages (civil liability) or administrative liability.

– With the automation and digitalisation of public administration, it is necessary to think about new solutions and who is responsible for what, for example in liability and supervision issues related to automated decision-making.

The Act on Information Management in Public Administration contains a new solution for dividing liability. This act entered into force on 1 May. In automation, persons in charge must be specified at different stages, with liability for the implementation or monitoring of automation, for example.

– More precisely defined and documented liabilities and operational obligations are also needed more widely in public administration as the administration becomes more networked and multi-actor cooperation structures become more common. On the other hand, the responsibility of the individual typical in Finland does not necessarily respond to future challenges in the best possible way; the legal responsibility of public bodies as organisations should also be developed.

Professor Mäntylä has previously worked at the University of Vaasa as an Associate Professor of Public Law. A little over three years ago, she was selected for the tenure track at the university, which enables her to progress through regular assessments to the position of professor.

– In my research, I also want to find solutions, not just detect problems in the legal systems.

Mäntylä defended her doctoral dissertation, in which she examined who can act on behalf of nature in legal proceedings, in 2010. The theme of her dissertation is even more relevant at the moment, as environmental issues have become an increasingly hot topic in society.

– I have been working in the same office at the University of Vaasa for 19 years and grown close to the sea visible from the window and the stacks of books in my room. I came here in 1999 to study public law, and, after graduation in 2004 I stayed to work for the university. I also studied law at the Vaasa Unit of the University of Helsinki, where I graduated in 2014, because I wanted to get an overall view of the functioning of the legal system.

– When I first started at the university, I was told that I needed to have sharp elbows in order to advance. My personal experience has been different, as the atmosphere between researchers has always been supportive. I also collaborate a lot with my Nordic colleagues, which is very rewarding. We have similar social conditions, but we still have differences in legal systems.



  • Name: Niina Mäntylä

  • Year and place of birth: 1980, Reisjärvi

  • Education: Doctor of Administrative Sciences, 2010 (University of Vaasa); Master of Laws, 2014 (University of Helsinki)

  • Career: Working in research and teaching at the University of Vaasa since 2004.

  • Surprising fact: Mäntylä’s original dream job was to be a vet. In comprehensive school, Mäntylä completed TET periods of introduction to working life by shadowing a vet at farms. She ended up as a researcher by chance when a six-month substitute position opened at the University of Vaasa and she was swept up by research. However, animals are still close to Mäntylä’s heart, and she has two dogs and two horses at home.

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