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.[1] 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.[2] Each of these systems has three levels, where the higher level court of the respective system typically only will hear cases that may become precedent or otherwise cases relationg to alleged violations of human rights including stately abuses which the state is responsible for, or personal legal interests of the judiciary.

The multilevel division of courts into different and separate systems create a legal environment where courts often find that they lack complete jurisdiction to handle all effects of cases placed before them by law.

General courts[edit]

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,[3][4][5] and a number of other non-contentious matters; such as adoption and appointment of legal guardians.[6][7] Proceedings are generally open to the public, but access can be restricted for example in cases about sexual offences.[8][9]

District courts
There are 48 district courts (Swedish: tingsrätt). The district courts are the court of first instance for the general courts.[3] 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.[citation needed]
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.[10][11]
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.[12]

General administrative courts[edit]

The general administrative courts handle numerous types of cases relating to disputes between private persons and the authorities.[13][14] 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.[15][16]

Administrative courts
There are 12 administrative courts (Swedish: förvaltningsrätt). They are the court of first instance for the general administrative courts.[13]
Administrative courts of appeal
The Administrative Court of Appeal Stockholm
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.[17][18][19]
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.[20]

Special courts[edit]

There are also a number of special courts, which will hear a narrower set of cases, as set down by legislation. These special courts has a narrow jurisdiction as definied by special laws[21], and depending on the cases particular content may or may not lack independence and impartiality versus the parties or the executive power[22]. Some of these courts are operated as divisions within courts of the general or general administrative courts. The special courts usually determine cases att the lowest level of the court system or at the first appeal level of the court system. Judgments by special courts can despite effects of special law, forbidding appeals be overturned or rendered void and null by special appeal to the supreme court[23] or the government[24]. Judgments of the Migration courts has recently been considered automatically to be void and null if the judgment is deemed a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and as a consequence unlawful by Swedish internal law.

  • Land and environmental courts (mark- och miljödomstolar): five district courts and one court of appeals, Svea hovrätt
  • Migration courts (migrationsdomstolar): three county administrative courts and 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 authorities[25] 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.


Sveriges rikes lag, the de facto statute book

Sweden has a penal law system and a civil law system with laws created by the Parliament of Sweden. However, Sweden also has an extensive system of administrative law. The Swedish internal law is by law subject to EU-law, international law and the European Convention on Human Rights[26][27].

Sweden allows hearsay evidence[28] and allows for free evalutation of evidence.

The role of judicial review of legislation is generally not practiced by the courts[29][failed verification]; instead, the Council on Legislation gives non-binding opinions on legality.[30] Courts are not bound by precedent, although it can be influential.[31]


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.[32] The actual day-to-day administration of the courts is the responsibility of the National Courts Administration (Domstolsverket) which is controlled by the Government of Sweden.[33][34][32]

Officers of the court[edit]

After completing their legal education, graduates may become judges, prosecutors, or private attorneys.[35] The government is the principal employer of law school graduates.[36]


Judges start their career by applying to the Ministry of Justice, who after primarily political considerations accepts about 30% of applicants.[35] 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.[37] After a broad range of assignments that may last up to 8 years, the government determines appointments and promotion of judges to permanent positions.[31] Appellate judges sometimes must wait until they have 20 years of experience before they are appointed with political exceptions requiring only 1 year of experience. To be appointed as an Appellate Judge, a judge must have the correct balance of good academic scores, solid research papers, several years of 'notable' litigating practice at both district and appellate courts, and voluntary service as providing legal aid as well as guest faculty providing lectures at Law Schools [31]

Judges in Sweden are considered to belong to the political party whose government accepted them into training to become a judge and or the political party whose government has given them the latest promotion or simply accepted them for a new job.


Swedish prosecutors are lawyers who are employed by the Swedish Prosecution Authority (Swedish: Åklagarmyndigheten) under the Government of Sweden and who direct the work of the police in cases concerning 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. As most persons involved in criminal cases does not have neither judicial or financial capacity or intention to bring about private prosecution, public prosecutors are sometimes alleged to decide matters for courts simply by subjectively choosing which matters to present to the court for the courts judgment.

The prosecutor is also the only public official who can decide to appeal public prosecution 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).


Henning Sjöström (right), regarded as Sweden's first celebrity lawyer due to his high-profile cases.

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.[38] In principle, there is a de facto monopoly held by those bearing the title advokat on providing certain legal services to the state of Sweden, primarly as the in law defined role of "public defender"[39]. The person assigned a "public defender" may however reject the defender and has a legal right to represent himself or herself, and may also choose their own defendant who, may or may not be a member of the Swedish Bar Association.

A board of the Swedish Bar Association supervises members and may disqualify an attorney from practicing law.[38] The Prosecutor General may request the board take action pursuant to the Code on Judicial Procedure.[40]

Compared with other countries, the number of attorneys in private practice is small.[38]

Lay judges[edit]

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.[41][42] Lay judges are always in the majority in district courts, whereas the professional judges are in the majority in the appellate courts.

Municipal assemblies of political parties appoint lay judges for the district courts and the county councils appoint lay judges for the appellate and county administrative courts.[41] They are appointed for a period of 4 years, and may not refuse appointment without valid excuse such as an age of 60 years.[41] Typically, a lay judge will serve one day per month in court during his or her tenure. Lay judges represent their political parties in court[43].

In principle, any adult can become a lay judge.[44] Lay judges must be Swedish citizens and under 70 years old.[41] People that cannot be lay judges are judges, court officers, prosecutors, police, attorneys, and professionals engaged in judicial proceedings.[41] In practice, lay judges in Sweden are elderly, wealthy, and better educated.[44] 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.[45][46][47]

The use of lay judges in Sweden goes back to Medieval times.[41]


Jurors (jurymän) who decide cases outside the presence of judges are only used in press libel cases and other cases concerning offenses against freedom of the press.[48][49] Unless the parties agree to waive a jury trial, the question of whether or not the printed material falls outside permissible limits is submitted to a jury of nine members.[48][49] In these cases, six of the nine jurors must find against the defendant, and may not be overruled in cases of acquittal.[49]

Sweden has no tradition of using juries in most types of criminal or civil trial.[citation needed] The most frequently prosecuted offence under this act is defamation, although in total eighteen offences, including high treason and espionage, are covered.[citation needed] Sentencing is the sole prerogative of judges.[citation needed]

Jurors are appointed for each county by the county or municipal council for four-year terms, divided into two groups of sixteen and eight jurors, or twenty-four and twelve jurors for Stockholm County, where jurors in the second group should be or have been lay judges in the ordinary or administrative courts.[50] 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, and combined, they should represent a range of social groups and opinions, as well as all parts of the county.[51] 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.[52] The final jury is then randomly selected by drawing of lots.[53]

The European Court of Human Rights has in a few cases determined that the outcome of such "random" selections of juries or court members may cause violations of the convention of human rights if the resulting selection of jury does not appear to be impartial or independent from the parties of the case or the matter[54]. In later judgments the European Court of Human Rights has also ruled that the same quality criterions shall also apply to judges[55].

To remedy such "random" outcomes of draws most other parts of the judiciary has replaced the "random" draw with a political officer, normally but not necessary the local head of court who decides by direct decision which unit or section of a court that gets to rule on which case.

The remaining use of jurors in press libel cases and similar has been criticised with the allegation that the system only remains to allow for threathening outspoken or otherwise unwished citizens with smearcampaigns in the press of which the citizens doesn't have any effective judicial remedy available in Sweden.

Chancellor of Justice[edit]

The Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern) is by law a direct subject of the Government of Sweden[56], 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.[32] 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.[32]

The Chancellor of Justice has been judged to be a effective remedy for economical damages for violations of European Convention on Human Rights[57].

Legal education[edit]

Legal education in Sweden results in a master of law degree after about 4–5 years of study.[36] Sweden has several law schools:

The government is the principle employer of law school graduates.[36] Compared with other countries, the number of attorneys in private practice is small.[38] There are only about 100 law professors in Sweden.[58]

Law enforcement[edit]

Two Swedish police vans

The main body for law enforcement in Sweden is the Swedish Police Authority (Polisen). Until the middle 19th century, Swedish police were decentralized, unprofessional, and disorganized.[59][according to whom?] After a study in 1962 recommended nationalization, the police service was centralized in 1965.[60] The Prison and Probation Service is the government agency handling prisons in Sweden.[61]

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.[62] The actual day-to-day administration is the responsibility of the Swedish Police Authority.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Swedish judicial system" (PDF). Ministry of Justice. 2015-06-25.
  2. ^ "Sveriges Domstolar". Archived from the original on 2009-02-09. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ a b "District court". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Rättegångsbalk (1942:740)" (in Swedish). Notisum AB. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  5. ^ "The Swedish judicial system" (PDF). The Swedish Government. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 August 2014. Retrieved 30 July 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ "Adoptera". SNCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  7. ^ "God man och förvaltare". SNCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  8. ^ "Besöka en rättegång - Sveriges Domstolar". www.domstol.se (in Swedish). 2009-11-19. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  9. ^ "Brottmål - Stockholms Advokatbyrå AB" (in Swedish). Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  10. ^ "Court of appeal". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  11. ^ "Hovrätt" (in Swedish). Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  12. ^ "The Supreme Court". SNCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  13. ^ a b "The Swedish courts". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  14. ^ "Lag (1971:289) om allmänna förvaltningsdomstolar" (in Swedish). lagen.nu. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  15. ^ "Administrative courts". Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  16. ^ "Förvaltningsdomstolar" (in Swedish). lag24.se. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  17. ^ "Kammarrätt". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  18. ^ "Administrative courts of appeal". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  19. ^ "Offentlighets- och sekretesslag (2009:400)". lagen.nu. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  20. ^ "The Supreme Administrative Court". SNCA. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  21. ^ For exemple the law about Land and Environmental courts (2010:921), the law Plan and Building act (2010:900) or the Foreign law or the Law of Foreigners (2005:716).
  22. ^ For example. As the public sector in Sweden is huge and the state of Sweden more oftan than not participates in parastatal activities with a multitude of governmental organizations, the state is more oftan than not a directly or indirectly a party to the proceedings in Land and environmental courts as well as Labour courts, Migration courts etc.
  23. ^ Rättegångsbalk (1942:740) Chapter 59. About the complaint of procedural error etc.
  24. ^ Kungörelse (1974:152) Regarding decided new form of government. Chapter 12 Administration: Exemption and Mercy. Section 8 and 9.
  25. ^ A Swedish "nämnd" is an authority by international standards and not a tribunal. A Swedish "nämnd" may however under the very best of circumstances qualify and function as a tribunal. A Swedish "nämnd" primarily executes the will of the Government and secondarily the will of Parliament.
  26. ^ "Kungörelse (1974:152) Regarding decided new form of government. Chapter 2 Section 19. "Law or other regulations may not be issued in contravention of Sweden's obligations under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the Fundamental Freedoms. (the chapter of fundamental rights of the European Union)"".
  27. ^ "Kungörelse (1974:152) Regarding on decided new form of government. Chapter 11 Law enforcement. Section 14: "If a court finds that a regulation is in contravention of a provision of the constitution or other higher statutory provision, the regulation may not be applied. The same applies if a statutory order has been violated in some material respect upon the advent of the regulation. When considering in accordance with the first paragraph of a law, special consideration should be given to the fact that the Riksdag is the main representative of the people and that the constitution goes before the law". line feed character in |title= at position 386 (help)
  28. ^ Terrill 2009, p. 258.
  29. ^ "Article in the paper "The Attorney" regarding judicial review".
  30. ^ Terrill 2009, p. 243.
  31. ^ a b c Terrill 2009, p. 246.
  32. ^ a b c d Terrill 2009, p. 242.
  33. ^ The National Court of Justice's operational plan 2019-2021.
  34. ^ Letter of regulation for the financial year 2019 regarding the Swedish Courts.
  35. ^ a b Terrill 2009, p. 245.
  36. ^ a b c Terrill 2009, p. 249.
  37. ^ Terrill 2009, pp. 245-246.
  38. ^ a b c d Terrill 2009, p. 247.
  39. ^ "Rättegångsbalk (1942:740). Chapter 21 Regarding the suspect and his defence. Section 5. "As a public defender a suitable advocate/attorney shall be appointed, .... "". 2019-09-21.
  40. ^ Terrill 2009, pp. 247-248.
  41. ^ a b c d e f Terrill 2009, pp. 248–249.
  42. ^ Courts of Sweden: District court judgment, retrieved on February 1, 2010
  43. ^ Lay judges are elected by politcians after being nominated by their politcial parties. (2019-09-21). "This is how you become chosen. Become Lay judge". Bli nämndeman (lay judge).
  44. ^ a b Malsch 2009, p. 48.
  45. ^ Bell 2004, pp. 299–300.
  46. ^ Bell 2004, p. 306.
  47. ^ "The advantages and disadvantages of lay judges from a Swedish perspective". Cairn.info. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
  48. ^ a b Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 2)
  49. ^ a b c Ginsburg, Ruth Bader; Bruzelius, Anders (1965). Civil Procedure in Sweden. Martinus Nijhoff. p. 23. OCLC 3303361.
  50. ^ Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 3-4)
  51. ^ Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 5)
  52. ^ Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 9,12)
  53. ^ Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 9)
  54. ^ European Court of Human Rights. Court (CHAMBER) Judgment in the case of HOLM v. SWEDEN. Application no. 14191/88. STRASBOURG 25 November 1993.
  55. ^ European Court of Human Rights. Third section Judgment in the case of BELLIZZI v. MALTA. Application no. 46575/09. STRASBOURG 21 June 2011.
  56. ^ "Regulation (1975:1345) with instruktion for the Chancellor of Justice. Section 2. "The Chancellor of Justice shall below (subordinate) the government monitor the rights of the state, ....."". 2019-09-22.
  57. ^ European Court of Human Rights. Third section Judgment. Case of RUMINSKI v. SWEDEN. Application no. 17906/15. STRASBOURG 2 May 2017. And. Fifth section Declaration of the application inadmissible. Application no. 10404/10. STRASBOURG 21 May 2013.
  58. ^ Terrill 2009, p. 250.
  59. ^ Terrill 2009, p. 226.
  60. ^ Terrill 2009, p. 227.
  61. ^ "Swedish Prison and Probation Service". kriminalvarden.se/.
  62. ^ Terrill 2009, p. 229.

External links[edit]