Judiciary of Sweden

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 tiers, where the top tier court of the respective system typically only will hear cases that may become precedent.

General courts

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]

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.
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.[8][9]
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.[10]

General administrative courts

The Administrative Court of Appeal Stockholm

The general administrative courts handle numerous types of cases relating to disputes between private persons and the authorities.[11][12] 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.[13][14]

Administrative courts
There are 12 administrative courts (Swedish: förvaltningsrätt). They are the court of first instance for the general administrative courts.[11]
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.[15][16][17]
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.[18]

Special courts

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.

A number of tribunals are also very similar to special courts in the way they operate:


Main article: Law of Sweden
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.

Sweden allows hearsay evidence.[19]

The role of judicial review of legislation is not practiced by the courts; instead, the Council on Legislation gives non-binding opinions on legality.[20] Courts are not bound by precedent, although it is influential.[21]


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.[22] The actual day-to-day administration of the courts is the responsibility of the National Courts Administration (Domstolsverket).[22]

Officers of the court

After completing their legal education, graduates may become judges, prosecutors, or private attorneys.[23] The government is the principle employer of law school graduates.[24]


Judges start their career by applying to the Ministry of Justice, who accepts about 30% of applicants.[23] 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.[25] After a broad range of assignments that may last up to 8 years, the government determines appointments and promotion of judges to permanent positions.[21] Appellate judges usually must wait until they have 20 years of experience before they are appointed.[21]


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).


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

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.[26] 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.[26] The Prosecutor General may request the board take action pursuant to the Code on Judicial Procedure.[27]

Compared with other countries, the number of attorneys in private practice is small.[26]

Lay judges

Further information: Lay judge

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.[28][29] 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.[28] They are appointed for a period of 4 years, and may not refuse appointment without valid excuse such as an age of 60 years.[28] Typically, a lay judge will serve one day per month in court during his or her tenure.

In principle, any adult can become a lay judge.[30] Lay judges must be Swedish citizens and under 70 years old.[28] People that cannot be lay judges are judges, court officers, prosecutors, police, attorneys, and professionals engaged in judicial proceedings.[28] In practice, lay judges in Sweden are elderly, wealthy, and better educated.[30] 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.[31][32][33]

The use of lay judges in Sweden goes back to Medieval times.[28]


Further information: Jury § Sweden

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.[34][35] 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.[34][35] In these cases, six of the nine jurors must find against the defendant, and may not be overruled in cases of acquittal.[35]

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

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.[36] 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.[37] 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.[38] The final jury is then randomly selected by drawing of lots.[39]

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.[22] 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.[22]

Legal education in Sweden results in a master of law degree after about 4–5 years of study.[24] Sweden has several law schools:

The government is the principle employer of law school graduates.[24] Compared with other countries, the number of attorneys in private practice is small.[26] There are only about 100 law professors in Sweden.[40]

Law enforcement

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.[41] After a study in 1962 recommended nationalization, the police service was centralized in 1965.[42] The Prison and Probation Service is the government agency handling prisons in Sweden.[43]

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

See also


  1. The Swedish judicial system - a brief presentation, Swedish Ministry of Justice, December 2007
  2. "Sveriges Domstolar".
  3. 1 2 "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. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  6. "Adoptera". SNCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  7. "God man och förvaltare". SNCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  8. "Court of appeal". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  9. "Hovrätt" (in Swedish). Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  10. "The Supreme Court". SNCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  11. 1 2 "The Swedish courts". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  12. "Lag (1971:289) om allmänna förvaltningsdomstolar" (in Swedish). lagen.nu. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  13. "Administrative courts". Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  14. "Förvaltningsdomstolar" (in Swedish). lag24.se. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  15. "Kammarrätt". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  16. "Administrative courts of appeal". Swedish National Courts Administration. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  17. "Offentlighets- och sekretesslag (2009:400)". lagen.nu. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  18. "The Supreme Administrative Court". SNCA. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  19. Terrill 2009, p. 258.
  20. Terrill 2009, p. 243.
  21. 1 2 3 Terrill 2009, p. 246.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Terrill 2009, p. 242.
  23. 1 2 Terrill 2009, p. 245.
  24. 1 2 3 Terrill 2009, p. 249.
  25. Terrill 2009, pp. 245-246.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Terrill 2009, p. 247.
  27. Terrill 2009, pp. 247-248.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Terrill 2009, pp. 248–249.
  29. Courts of Sweden: District court judgment, retrieved on February 1, 2010
  30. 1 2 Malsch 2009, p. 48.
  31. Bell 2004, pp. 299–300.
  32. Bell 2004, p. 306.
  33. "The advantages and disadvantages of lay judges from a Swedish perspective". Cairn.info. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
  34. 1 2 Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 2)
  35. 1 2 3 Ginsburg, Ruth Bader; Bruzelius, Anders (1965). Civil Procedure in Sweden. Martinus Nijhoff. p. 23. OCLC 3303361.
  36. Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 3-4)
  37. Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 5)
  38. Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 9,12)
  39. Tryckfrihetsförordningen (SFS 1949:105  ch. 12  § 9)
  40. Terrill 2009, p. 250.
  41. Terrill 2009, p. 226.
  42. Terrill 2009, p. 227.
  43. "Swedish Prison and Probation Service". http://www.kriminalvarden.se/. External link in |work= (help)
  44. Terrill 2009, p. 229.
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