In Sweden, the sources of law consist mainly of statutes, case law and preparatory work on proposed laws.
The most important sources of law are the statutes. They are printed and proclaimed in codes of statutes. The statutes are divided into acts, ordinances and regulations. Acts are decided by the Parliament, ordinances are decided by the Government and regulations are issued by the authorities.
Decisions from the courts, case law, play an important part in the application of the law. This particularly applies to decisions from the highest instances, the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court.
Preparatory work on proposed laws, i.e. the texts that are created in connection with the legislative process, are also used in the application of the law.
Doctrines, commercial customs, contractual provisions and general custom can be said to be supplementary sources of law.
The most important statutes are the constitutional laws. Sweden has four constitutional laws: the Constitution Act, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Freedom of Speech Act. These can only be changed through a special procedure (more on this below). After this come other acts, ordinances and regulations in the order mentioned.
Preparatory work and case law are subsidiary sources of law. Preparatory work is used as a means of assistance in the application of the law. The preparatory work for government bills has the greatest importance. Case law is also of great importance in the application of the law. The more recent the preparatory work, the more important it is. When legislation is old or when a lot has happened within an area of law, the importance of case law increases.
International agreements must, as a principle rule, be incorporated into Swedish law in order to be able to be applied by courts and other bodies applying the law. The agreement can be incorporated either by reworking it into a Swedish constitutional text, or by means of a separate legal act that prescribes that the agreement is to apply in Sweden.
EU legislation is, however, excepted from this principle as Sweden has transferred part of its regulatory capacity to the EU. EU legislation therefore applies to a certain extent directly in Sweden without any intermediate legislation. Please see more about this in the fact sheet, Legal Order in the EU.
Only Parliament can adopt acts. Most acts are created following proposals from the Government. Bills can also be submitted by members of parliament and parliamentary committees. Furthermore, the initiative can be taken to make amendments to legislation by political parties, interest groups, associations and private individuals.
Before the Government can compose a bill, the matter must be investigated. This may take place by a committee or enquiry being set up, or by the Cabinet Office’s own civil servants investigating the matter. The bill is normally submitted to a number of authorities and associations that are concerned and they are then given the opportunity to comment on the proposal. When the period for submitting comments has expired, the Cabinet Office considers the bill. The majority of bills are submitted to the Council on Legislation, which is a body consisting mainly of judges in the Supreme Court and the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court. The Council on Legislation examines the bill from a legal-technical point of view. The Council on Legislation’s comments are passed to the Cabinet Office, which again considers the bill. This arrangement ends in a government bill that is submitted to Parliament. In the Parliament, this is submitted to a committee, which examines the proposal. The Parliament subsequently makes a decision on whether the act should be approved or not. The Parliament can of course change the submitted proposal. When Parliament has made its decision, the Government will issue and proclaim the new act.
In certain cases, the Government can issue regulations through ordinances. On the one hand, the Government has an independent jurisdiction to issue regulations, and on the other, Parliament may empower the Government to issue regulations in certain areas. Within the Government’s independent regulatory capacity fall regulations concerning the execution of acts and regulations that are not to be issued by Parliament in accordance with constitutional law, but not such regulations that mean commitments for individuals. Regulations with a certain content fall exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Parliament and cannot be delegated.
When amending constitutional law, Parliament must make identical decisions twice and a parliamentary election is to have taken place between both decisions. Furthermore, a principal rule is that at least nine months should have passed between the matter being first raised in Parliament and the election.
It is normally stated in an act when it will come into force. It is sometimes the case, however, that entry into force is governed by a separate so-called promulgation act, or the Government is empowered by an act to determine the date of coming into force and this later takes place by means of a separate ordinance.
The procedure with regard to ordinances is less extensive and complicated. After investigation, the Government itself can decide on the ordinance. It is stated in an ordinance when it is to come into force. No special proclamation decision is therefore required.
If a conflict arises in the application of the law, general principles of interpretation are used to decide which rule has precedence.
There is also an option for the testing of rules, which is governed by constitutional law. If a court or another official body finds that a regulation from the Government or Parliament conflicts with a provision in constitutional law or other superior statute, the regulation may not be applied if the fault is obvious (Chapter 11, Section 14 of the Constitution Act).
There is no constitutional court in Sweden.
Last update: 02-05-2005