Judiciary of Sweden
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The judicial system of Sweden consists of the law of Sweden and a number of government agencies tasked with upholding security and rule of law within the country. The activities of these agencies include police and law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and prisons and other correctional services.
The courts are divided into two parallel and separate systems: The general courts (Swedish: allmänna domstolar) for criminal and civil cases, and general administrative courts (Swedish: allmänna förvaltningsdomstolar) for cases relating to disputes between private persons and the authorities. Each of these systems has three tiers, where the top tier court of the respective system typically only will hear cases that may become precedent.
The general courts deal with criminal cases, like an act defined in the Swedish Penal Code or in another law, for which a sanction is prescribed (e.g. theft or robbery). The general courts also handle some civil law disputes, for example, disputes over the contents of a business agreement or cases relating to family law, and a number of other non-contentious matters; such as adoption and appointment of legal guardians.
- District courts
- There are 48 district courts (Swedish: tingsrätt). The district courts are the court of first instance for the general courts. In 1971, the tingsrätt became the district court all over Sweden, replacing the previous distinction between rådhusrätt in larger cities and häradsrätt for other parts of the country.
- Courts of appeal
- There are six appellate courts (Swedish: hovrätt). The courts of appeal are the second instance on issues relating to criminal cases, contentious cases and other judicial issues that have already been dealt with by a district court. The appellate court may in some circumstances require a leave to appeal, meaning they will only proceed with a case if there is reason to believe they would arrive at a conclusion different to that of the district court.
- Supreme Court
- The supreme court (Swedish: Högsta domstolen) is the final instance of the general courts. A leave to appeal is required. This is granted by the court itself and only done when it is deemed important to establish a precedent for the lower courts.
General administrative courts
The general administrative courts handle numerous types of cases relating to disputes between private persons and the authorities. Over 500 different kinds of cases are assigned to the general administrative courts, like appeals against decisions made by the Swedish Tax Agency or the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.
- Administrative courts
- There are 12 administrative courts (Swedish: förvaltningsrätt). They are the court of first instance for the general administrative courts.
- Administrative courts of appeal
- There are four administrative courts of appeal (Swedish: kammarrätt). They mostly handle cases and other judicial issues that have already been dealt with by the lower administrative courts, but also act as court of first instance in cases related to the principle of public access to official records. The court needs to grant a leave to appeal to hear a case; with the exception of tax cases, cases concerning the compulsory care for young people or adults with substance misuse problems, and people who are mentally ill. A leave of appeal is only granted if there's reason to believe a decision might be overturned, or set an important precedent in a higher court.
- Supreme Administrative Court
- The Supreme Administrative Court (Swedish: Högsta förvaltningsdomstolen) is the final instance of the general administrative courts. A permission to appeal will only be granted by the Supreme Administrative Court if there is reason to believe the case may be of importance as a precedent. Simple erroneous judicial decision-making by the lower courts is usually not sufficient for the court to consider a case.
There are also a number of special courts, which will hear a narrower set of cases, as set down by legislation. While independent in their rulings, some of these courts are operated as divisions within courts of the general or general administrative courts. The special courts usually have a one-tier or two-tier system.
- Land and environmental courts (mark- och miljödomstolar): five first-tier courts (in five district courts) and one second-tier court (in one court of appeals, Svea hovrätt)
- Migration courts (migrationsdomstolar): three first-tier courts (in three county administrative courts) and one second-tier court (in one administrative court of appeals, in Stockholm)
- The Labour Court (Arbetsdomstolen)
- The Market Court (Marknadsdomstolen)
- The Court of Patent Appeals (Patentbesvärsrätten)
- The Defence Intelligence Court (Försvarsunderrättelsedomstolen)
A number of tribunals are also very similar to special courts in the way they operate:
- Regional rent tribunals (hyresnämnder), of which there are eight, within district courts.
- Regional tenancy tribunals (arrendenämnder), of which there are eight, in the same locations as regional rent tribunals.
- The tribunal for traffic injuries (Trafikskadenämnden) in Stockholm. If the parties don't want to accept its recommendation, the case is appealed in the district court (tingsrätt). Other insurance matters have their own tribunals: Ansvarsförsäkringens Personskadenämnd, Ombudskostnadsnämnden, Personförsäkringsnämnden and Nämnden för rättsskyddsfrågor.
- The National Board for Consumer Disputes (Allmänna Reklamationsnämnden) pronounces recommendation verdicts, but without imposing anything, yet are these normally respected.
The role of judicial review of legislation is not practiced by the courts; instead, the Council on Legislation gives non-binding opinions on legality. There is no stare decisis in that courts are not bound by precedent, although it is influential.
The Ministry of Justice, a cabinet-level department in the government of Sweden headed by the Minister of Justice, is primarily concerned with legislation concerning the judiciary. The actual day-to-day administration of the courts is the responsibility of the National Courts Administration (Domstolsverket).
Officers of the court
Judges start their career by applying to the Ministry of Justice, who accepts about 30% of applicants. They begin their training as assistants and court clerks for about 2 years, and after candidates pass the appropriate test, are assigned to a district court. After a broad range of assignments that may last up to 8 years, the government determines appointments and promotion of judges to permanent positions. Appellate judges usually must wait until they have 20 years of experience before they are appointed.
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Swedish prosecutors are lawyers who are employed by the Swedish Prosecution Authority (Swedish: Åklagarmyndigheten) and who direct the work of the police in cases concerning severe criminality. In all criminal cases, the prosecutors make decisions concerning arrests and charges on behalf of the public, and are the only public officials who can make such decisions - there is a possibility, rarely used, for private individuals to present a private prosecution (enskilt åtal) as well. (The exception is cases concerning crimes against the freedom of the press, for which the Chancellor of Justice acts as prosecutor.) In court, the prosecutor is not necessarily in an adversarial relationship to the defendant, but is under an obligation to investigate and present information which is to the advantage of the defendant as well as to his or her disadvantage. He is not a member of the bench, nor does he participate in the private deliberations of the court.
The prosecutor is also the only public official who can decide to appeal cases to courts of appeal. (As well as the defence, victims, their representatives and other parties to the case (målsäganden) can also appeal.) When a case has been decided by a court of appeal, the right to appeal to the Supreme Court passes from the prosecutor of the individual case to the Prosecutor-General of Sweden (Swedish: Riksåklagaren).
Attorneys become an advokat or advocate when they are admitted to the Swedish Bar Association after they graduate from law school as a Candidate of Law and have practiced law "with merit" for at least 5 years. In principle, there is no monopoly held by those bearing the title advokat on providing legal services in Sweden.
A board of the Swedish Bar Association supervises members and may disqualify an attorney from practicing law. The Prosecutor General may request the board take action pursuant to the Code on Judicial Procedure.
Compared with other countries, the number of attorneys in private practice is small.
In Sweden, lay judges (nämndemän, also known as lay assessors) sit alongside professional judges in district and appellate general and administrative courts, but decide virtually no civil cases. Lay judges are always in the majority in district courts, whereas the professional judges are in the majority in the appellate courts.
Municipal assemblies appoint lay judges for the district courts and the county councils appoint lay judges for the appellate and county administrative courts. They are appointed for a period of 4 years, and may not refuse appointment without valid excuse such as an age of 60 years old. Typically, a lay judge will serve one day per month in court during his or her tenure.
In principle, any adult can become lay judges. Lay judges must be Swedish citizens and under 70 years old. People that cannot be lay judges are judges, court officers, prosecutors, police, attorneys, and professionals engaged in judicial proceedings. In practice, lay judges in Sweden are elderly, wealthy, and better educated. Lay judges are usually politicians from the local authority from which they are appointed, appointed in proportion to political party representation at the last local elections.
The use of lay judges in Sweden goes back to Medieval times.
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In press libel cases and other cases concerning offenses against freedom of the press, the question of whether or not the printed material falls outside permissible limits is submitted to a jury of 9 members which provides a pre-screening before the case is ruled on by normal courts. In these cases 6 out of 9 jurors must find against the defendant, and may not be overruled in cases of acquittal.
Sweden has no tradition of using juries in most types of criminal or civil trial. The sole exception, since 1815, is in cases involving freedom of the press, prosecuted under Chapter 7 of the Freedom of the Press Act, part of Sweden's constitution. The most frequently prosecuted offence under this act is defamation, although in total eighteen offences, including high treason and espionage, are covered. These cases are tried in district courts (first tier courts) by a jury of nine laymen.
The jury in press freedom cases rules only on the facts of the case and the question of guilt or innocence. The trial judge may overrule a jury's guilty verdict, but may not overrule an acquittal. A conviction requires a majority verdict of 6-3. Sentencing is the sole prerogative of judges.
Jury members must be Swedish citizens and resident in the county in which the case is being heard. They must be of sound judgement and known for their independence and integrity. Combined, they should represent a range of social groups and opinions, as well as all parts of the county. It is the county council that have the responsibility to appoints juries for a tenure of four years under which they may serve in multiple cases. The appointed jurymen are divided into two groups, in most counties the first with sixteen members and the second with eight. From this pool of available jurymen the court hears and excludes those with conflicts of interest in the case, after which the defendants and plaintiffs have the right to exclude a number of members, varying by county and group. The final jury is then randomly selected by drawing of lots.
Juries are not used in other criminal and civil cases. For most other cases in the first and second tier courts lay judges sit alongside professional judges. Lay judges participate in deciding both the facts of the case and sentencing. Lay judges are appointed by local authorities, or in practice by the political parties represented on the authorities.
Chancellor of Justice
The Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern) is the chief legal advisor to the government and the Minister, represents Sweden in civil litigation, and also has oversight responsibility similar to that of an ombudsman. The Chancellor also has duties with respect to the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Laws on Freedom of Expression, two of the four constituent pieces of the Constitution of Sweden.
Legal education in Sweden results in a master of law degree after about 4-5 years of study. Sweden has several law schools:
- Uppsala University
- Lund University
- Stockholm University
- Gothenburg University
- Umeå University
- Örebro University
The government is the principle employer of law school graduates. Compared with other countries, the number of attorneys in private practice is small. There are only about 100 law professors in Sweden.
The main body for law enforcement in Sweden is the Swedish Police Service (Polisen) and until the middle 19th century, Swedish police were decentralized, unprofessional, and disorganized. After a study in 1962 recommended nationalization, the police service was centralized in 1965. The Prison and Probation Service is the government agency handling prisons in Sweden.
The Ministry of Justice, a cabinet-level department in the government of Sweden headed by the Minister of Justice, is primarily concerned with legislation concerning law enforcement. The actual day-to-day administration is the responsibility of the National Police Board (Rikspolisstyrelsen).
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- [dead link]
- Tryckfrihetsförordning (1949:105-SFS 2010:1409) Riksdagen (Swedish)
- The Freedom of the Press Act/Sweden The International Constitutional Law Project
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- Terrill 2009, p. 250.
- Terrill 2009, p. 226.
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- Terrill, Richard J. (2009). World Criminal Justice Systems: A Survey (7 ed.). Elsevier. ISBN 978-1-59345-612-2.
- Malsch, Marijke (2009). Democracy in the Courts: Lay Participation in European Criminal Justice Systems. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-7405-4.
- Bell, John (2004). "Lay Judges". In Dashwood, Alan; Bell, John; Ward, Angela. Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies 3. ISBN 978-1-84113-361-4.
The choice by the local community is now reflected in the appointment of the nämnd by the local authority. … Nämndemän are usually chosen from members of the authority in proportion to the political representation at the last local elections.