UPDATE: Swedish Law and Legal Materials

Update by Sofia Sternberg

Sofia Sternberg is currently the librarian at the Swedish Supreme Court in Stockholm. She has a law degree as well as a master’s degree in library and information science and has practised law for five years before becoming a librarian. Before starting at the Court in 2016, she worked for many years at the Law Library of Uppsala University, Sweden, where she was mainly involved in library instruction for students and also responsible for the library’s European documentation centre.

Published July/August 2020

(Previously updated by Ingrid Kabir and Sofia Sternberg in May 2007 and in November 2009; and by Sofia Sternberg in September 2011 and in July/August 2017)

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1. The Swedish Legal System – Historical Background

The Swedish legal system has its roots in the continental legal tradition with its dependence on statutory law. Between the 12th and 14th centuries there was a transition in Scandinavia from regional laws, Landskapslagar, to central legislation, such as the national laws initiated by the Swedish king Magnus Eriksson dated about 1350. There was close communication between scholars of Sweden and the European continent in the 18th century. This led to a strong influence from the German-Roman tradition of the European continental countries on the Swedish legal system. A comprehensive Swedish code was enacted in 1734. This code, known as The Code of 1734, was divided into the following eight sections:

This arrangement can still be found in the comprehensive edition of The Law Book (in Swedish Sveriges Rikes Lag) published by Norstedts Juridik, with the later addition of the Parental Code (1949), the Environmental Code (1998) and the Social Insurance Code (2010).

2. The Swedish Constitution

The fundamental laws of Sweden are the following: The Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. The acts, which form the Swedish Constitution, are available in English on the website of the Swedish Parliament. See also the publication “The constitution of Sweden – the fundamental laws and the Riksdag Act”, with an introduction by Magnus Isberg, Swedish Parliament, 2016.

2.1. The Parliamentary Ombudsmen

The Parliamentary Ombudsmen (JO) are elected by The Riksdag according to Chapter 13, article 6 of The Instrument of Government. They supervise the application of laws and other regulations in the public service. The Ombudsmen investigate complaints from the general public and conduct inquiries on their own initiative. A selection of decisions can be found on the website of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen, some of them in English. The website also includes a bibliography on literature about the office of the Ombudsmen.

3. International Agreements

The rules governing Sweden’s relations with other states and international organisations are found in Chapter 10 of The Instrument of Government. Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1995, which has greatly influenced the development of Swedish law.

Sweden’s international agreements are published in the Swedish Treaties Series, Sveriges internationella överenskommelser (SÖ). The series is available online on the website of the Swedish Government (in Swedish and in English). International agreements need to be incorporated into national law. For example, the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated through Swedish legislation in 1994 (SFS 1994:1219) and is frequently referred to in the national courts. From January 2020 the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has also been incorporated into Swedish law through SFS 2018:1197.

4. Sources of Law

There are four main sources of Swedish law: legislation, preparatory legislative materials, case law and literature. Legislation is the primary source, while the other three are used to interpret the law in specific cases. Preparatory documents are of great importance in interpreting the law in Sweden, as in other Nordic countries. However, as the law grows older, more importance is attributed to the case law from the supreme courts. In areas of European law, cases from the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human rights, as well as EU legislation, are of course also important sources of law for the Swedish courts.

4.1. Legislation

Acts and ordinances have been published in The Swedish Code of Statutes since 1825. The Swedish title is “Svensk författningssamling (SFS).” The statutes were previously cumulated in an annual volume with a keyword index. Since April 2018 the official version of SFS has been published online through www.svenskforfattningssamling.se (Swedish Code of Statutes). A consolidated version of Swedish legislation in force is available on the website of the Swedish Parliament – Documents and Laws (Sveriges Riksdag – Document & Lagar).

A comprehensive one-volume edition of Swedish laws entitled “Sveriges Rikes Lag” is published annually by Norstedts Juridik. Another one-volume set is “Sveriges Lag” published annually by Studentlitteratur.

4.2. Main Series of Legislation

4.3. Translated Legislation

Some Swedish legislation translated into English can be found on the website of the Swedish Government. Translations are often published in the Ministry publications series (Ds), such as the Swedish Penal Code (Ds 1999:36). The Government Offices of Sweden offer online access to the current Swedish Criminal Code (SFS 1962:700 Brottsbalken) (updated April 23, 2020). The Government Offices of Sweden also offer online access to the Swedish Local Government Act (Ds 2004:31), the Swedish Environmental Code (Ds 2000:61) and the Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure 1942:740 (published June 15, 2015) and an older version available as Ds 1998:65.

There are also a few printed collections of Swedish legislation translated into English, such as Swedish Commercial Legislation (loose-leaf and online in the subscription service JUNO, Norstedts Juridik). Some translations of specific statutes have also been published by commercial publishers, for example “Swedish Companies Act”, Karnov Group 2014.

See also Swedish Statutes In Translation (Ds 2001:7), which contains a list of published translations of Swedish statutes. The translations are mostly in English, but some are also available in other languages. With all translations of Swedish statutes, it is important to observe that the translations are unofficial versions and do not necessarily represent the latest version of the legislation.

5. Preparatory Legislative Materials

To identify the relevant preparatory documents, you need to know about how Swedish laws are made. First, a commission of inquiry is appointed by the government, with an instruction on which legal area to investigate. The commission gives a report containing a detailed description of the proposed law, including a background on the current legal situation in this particular area. The report is published in either the SOU (Statens Offentliga Utredningar = Swedish Government Official Reports) or D’s (Departementsserien = Ministry Publications Series), depending on the type of commission.

The report is then circulated to concerned parties, including courts and other public authorities, for comment. After considering the report with comments, the responsible ministry gives a government bill (called “proposition”), containing the proposed law with a detailed explanatory statement. The bill is often scrutinized by the Council on Legislation (Lagrådet) before being submitted to the parliament. The parliament (Riksdag) considers the government bill in one of its committees, which gives a report (utskottsbetänkande) with their comments. Finally, the law is passed through a vote in parliament.

A summary (in Swedish) of the preparatory documents for a particular law can be found in the law journal Nytt Juridiskt Arkiv, Part II (1876-), which covers a selection of important laws. The government bill (proposition) is the most important preparatory document when interpreting the law. However, if the parliament has had a different opinion on some point in their report, the government bill is overruled in this part.

Some preparatory documents translated into English can be found on the website of the Swedish Government. Otherwise the preparatory documents are mostly available in Swedish only; however, many Government Official Reports (SOU) do have summaries in English.

Most of the older preparatory materials are now digitized and available on the website of the National Library (in Swedish); see Digitaliserat riksdagstryck (parliamentary documents, 1521-1970) and Digitaliserade SOU:er (Swedish Government Official Reports, 1922-1999) .

6. The Court System and Reports of Cases

6.1. The General Courts

There are 48 judicial districts, each one with a District Court (Tingsrätt). Five of the District Courts are also Land and Environmental Courts. Stockholm District Court is also the Patent and Market Court. The reports of the district courts are available only at the archive of the district court itself, although some are available through online subscription services. There are six Courts of Appeal (Hovrätt). Svea Court of Appeal is also the Patent and Market Court of Appeal as well as the Land and Environmental Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen, HD) is located in Stockholm. The general courts hear both criminal and civil cases. For a case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, the Court must first grant a leave to appeal, while in the lower appellate courts a leave to appeal is required only in some types of cases.

There are reporting services of cases from the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Reports of cases from the Supreme Court are published in the journal Nytt Juridiskt Arkiv: Avd. I. The journal has been published by the publisher Norstedts Juridik since 1874. Cases from the Supreme Court are also available on the website of the Court since 2003. A selection of cases from the Courts of Appeal is published in Rättsfall Från Hovrätterna (RH, 1980- ). The latter cases are not considered as precedents, but they can nevertheless be of guidance to the district courts. A general description of the Swedish Judiciary is available on the website of the Swedish Courts (Sveriges Domstolar). There are no official translations of cases from Swedish courts; however, the supreme courts are currently in the process of translating their websites into English, including translation of a selection of cases.

6.2. The Administrative Courts

There are 12 administrative courts (Förvaltningsrätt). Four of them are also Migration Courts. As with the district courts, the reports are available at the archives of the court, or (for a selection of cases) through online subscription services. There are four Administrative Courts of Appeal (Kammarrätt), the one in Stockholm also serving as the Migration Court of Appeal, and one Supreme Administrative Court (Högsta Förvaltningsdomstolen, formerly Regeringsrätten). There are no longer any official publications for the administrative courts of appeal (although the newer ones are often available online), except for the cases of the Migration Court of Appeal which are published in Migrationsöverdomstolen: praxis. The case law of the Supreme Administrative Court (Högsta Förvaltningsdomstolen) is published in Högsta förvaltningsdomstolens årsbok (HFD/RÅ) and also available on its website since 2008. For a case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, the Court must first grant a leave to appeal, while in the lower appellate courts a leave to appeal is required only in some types of cases.

Besides the general and administrative courts there is also the Labour Court (Arbetsdomstolen). The cases of this court are published in Arbetsdomstolens Domar (1929- ) and have been available on the website of the Court since 2003. Some cases on labour law, translated into English, can be found in the book “Swedish labour and Employment Law – Cases and Materials” by Ronnie Eklund, Tore Sigeman and Laura Carlson, Iustus 2008. There used to be more specialized courts, but their jurisdictions have now been integrated into the system of the General Courts. For example, in 2016 the Market Court (Marknadsdomstolen) and the Court of Patent Appeals (Patentbesvärsrätten) were replaced by the Patent and Market Courts, which are a part of the General Courts. The cases of the Market Court were published in Marknadsdomstolens Avgöranden (1971-2016) and are also still available on the website of the Court (2000-2016). The cases of the Patent and Market Court of Appeal can also be found on this Court’s website (2016-).

7. Literature

7.1. General Publications in English

7.2. Dictionaries

7.3. Bibliographies and Catalogues

The most comprehensive printed bibliographies on Swedish legal literature are written by Regner and published by Norstedts Juridik . They are called Svensk Juridisk Litteratur (Swedish Legal Literature), Rättspraxis i Litteraturen (Case Law in Literature) and Regeringsrättens Avgöranden i Litteraturen (The Decisions of the Supreme Administrative Court in Literature). The first publication contains references to Swedish literature (books and articles) divided into different legal areas. In the other two bibliographies, you can search by case number and get references for literature commenting on that specific case. In recent years, the only work that is still regularly updated is Rättspraxis i Litteraturen, which is now available online in the subscription service JUNO (Norstedts Juridik).There is also a printed bibliography of Nordic legal Festschriften, “Nordisk Juridisk Festskriftbibliografi” in two volumes (covering 1870-2002), published in Norway.

The literature in all the Swedish university libraries can be searched through the national library catalogue LIBRIS. LIBRIS also contains the Swedish National Bibliographic Databases. Swedish official publications from the 17th century-1833 can be searched through the online bibliography Swedish Hand Press Publications, also a part of LIBRIS. Digitization is currently in progress. For more historical documents, see also the National Archives Database of Sweden.

DIVA portal and SwePub are finding tools for research publications and student theses written at Swedish universities , including full text material.

7.4. Legal Commentaries

A general commentary on Swedish legislation is Karnov – Svensk lagsamling med kommentarer, published annually by Norstedts Juridik. There are several more in-depth commentaries on particular laws; most noted are the ones also published by Norstedts Juridik (in Swedish). Many of those, as well as Karnov, are also available online through the subscription service JUNO. There are a few books available in English on particular Swedish laws, for example, “The Swedish Companies Act [with the act in translation] – an Introduction” by Rolf Skog and Catarina Fäger, Norstedts Juridik 2007, “Commercial Arbitration in Sweden: a Commentary on the Arbitration Act (1999:116) and the Rules of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce” by Finn Madsen, 5th ed., Jure 2020 and “The Swedish Takeover Code: an Annotated Commentary” by Göran Nyström, Robert Ohlsson, Erik Sjöman and Rolf Skog, Routledge, 2017.

7.5. Legal Publishers

The major legal publishers are:

Among these, Norstedts Juridik is the oldest legal publisher. They publish the well renowned legal series “Institutet för Rättsvetenskaplig Forskning” (1952-) as well as many in-depth commentaries on Swedish codes and statutes. Jure provides a free newsletter with a wide selection of new titles from most of the Swedish legal publishers, as well as some international titles of interest for the Swedish audience.

7.6. Law Journals

In the yearbook Scandinavian Studies in Law, legal scholars present reviews of legal developments within the Scandinavian countries. The yearbook is published under the auspices of The Faculty of Law at Stockholm University and the Stockholm Institute for Scandinavian Law. It is also available online through the American subscription service HeinOnline. References to the yearbook contributions are included in the Swedish subscription service InfoTorg Juridik. Since 2006, there is also the yearbook “Swedish studies in European law”, published by Hart, which gives a Swedish perspective on European law issues.

Other titles include:

Among the above-mentioned titles Svensk Juristtidning (SvJT) and Juridisk tidskrift (JT) are the most frequently cited. They publish articles on general legal issues, while most of the others are focused on a specific legal area. SvJT is the oldest Swedish legal journal, published since 1916. Both Juridisk tidskrift and Svensk Juristtidning offer some peer-reviewed articles. Europarättslig Tidskrift (ERT) is focused on European law, and it frequently contains articles in English. Förvaltningsrättslig tidskrift (FT) is focused on administrative law.

8. Electronic Resources

8.1. Public Domain Sources

There is an official gateway to all Swedish legal information called “Lagrummet.” From this gateway, there are links to legal sources from government, parliament, courts and government agencies.

Full text of the Swedish Code of Statutes is available in the database of the Swedish Parliament called “Dokument & Lagar. Riksdagen” (Documents and Laws). This database also provides texts of government bills, committee reports, proposals from members of the parliament and minutes of debates. There is an English language version of the web site of the Swedish Parliament, but most of the legal documents are in Swedish. The older parliamentary documents have been digitized on the website Digitaliserat Riksdagstryck (1521-1970), from 1867 onwards also available on the website of the Parliament.

A selection of Swedish Statutes in translation of special interest is issued by the Swedish ministries and can be found on the website of the Swedish Government. Fact sheets on Swedish government policy are also included. Since the late 1990s the Swedish Government Official Reports (SOU) are available on the Government website. Older reports (1922-1999) have been digitized by the National Library of Sweden.

Apart from the official gateways there is also the private website Lagen.nu, which collects freely available materials and makes them accessible to the public.

8.2. Subscription Services

InfoTorg Juridik provides the oldest publicly available legal database system in Sweden, formerly known as Rättsbanken. It is a full text database containing statutes, case law, preparatory legislative materials and references to legal literature. The database also provides a current awareness tool for news and analysis of developments in Swedish law, formerly known as PointLex.

Notisum is the name of another legal monitoring service, provided by Karnov Group.

JUNO is the most comprehensive legal information system, provided by the publisher Norstedts Juridik. The service was created through a merger of the former services Karnov and Zeteo. It contains statutes, preparatory documents, reports of cases, e-books, legal journals and texts analysing and commenting on major codes of law. The general commentary on Swedish statutes, Karnov, is available in JUNO, and for a selection of laws the more in-depth commentary Lexino. Most of the legal commentaries published by Norstedts Juridik are also available online in JUNO, as well as the legal bibliography Rättspraxis i litteraturen.

JP Infonet offers legal information services, divided into subject areas. It provides a current awareness tool, including statutes, case law and other legal documents as well as legal analysis and commentaries by experts in the field. JP Infonet also provides case law services called “JP Rättsfallsnet”, as well as “JP Juridiskt bibliotek” (“Law library”), which includes links to statutory changes and preparatory documents from each section of a particular law.

Infosoc Rättsdata provides databases containing statutes and case law divided into different legal areas.

Blendow Lexnova provides a legal news service, part of which is also freely available at the legal news site Dagens Juridik, as well as a legal database with legislation, case law and preparatory documents. For a selection of legal topics, they also offer subscription to expert commentaries.

9. The Bar Association

10. Legal Education

In addition to the above-mentioned Law Schools, there are programmes on Business Law at Linköping University.

11. Law Libraries

There are also law libraries in the larger courts and law firms as well as at the Swedish Government Offices and other public authorities, but those libraries are not open to the public.