The fundamental laws protect our democracy. They contain the basic rules for political decision-making in Sweden. The fundamental laws therefore have a very special position in society.
The Swedish Constitution consists of four fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. In addition, the Riksdag Act has an intermediate position between fundamental law and ordinary law.
The fundamental laws take precedence over all other laws. This means that the content of other Swedish laws may never conflict with the provisions set out in the fundamental laws.
Difficult to amend
The fundamental laws are more difficult to amend than other laws. This is designed to protect our democracy by providing time for reflection and ensuring that the consequences have been thoroughly considered before changes are made.
For an amendment to be made, the Riksdag must take two identical decisions and these decisions must be separated by a general election. This long drawn-out procedure is designed to ensure that the Riksdag does not take any hasty decisions that can limit people's freedoms and rights.
It is possible to call a referendum on a constitutional matter. If the Riksdag has taken its first decision regarding an amendment to fundamental law, it can decide to call a referendum on the matter. The results of a referendum of this kind are binding. This means that if a majority vote against the proposal, the Riksdag cannot make an amendment to the Constitution. This possibility was introduced in 1980, but has not been made use of to date.
The Instrument of Government
All public power in Sweden proceeds from the people and the Riksdag is the foremost representative of the people. This is stated in the Instrument of Government - the fundamental law setting out the basic principles of our democracy. The Instrument of Government describes how the country is to be governed, our democratic rights, and how public power is to be divided.
The first Instrument of Government was issued in 1634, but written rules determining how the country shall be governed have existed ever since the mid-1300s, when King Magnus Eriksson's National Law was drawn up.
A parliamentary system - that the Government governs the country with the support of Parliament - started to apply after the end of the First World War, but it was not written into the Constitution until 1969.
The power of the king has diminished successively over the years. When the current Instrument of Government came into force in 1974, the king was stripped of all political power and left with symbolic duties.
The Act of Succession
Sweden is a monarchy and King Carl XVI Gustaf is Sweden's head of state. It is set out in the Instrument of Government that we shall have a king or queen as head of state. It is, however, the Act of Succession that contains the rules on who shall succeed to the throne.
The king and queen have a representative role and do not have any political power.
Female and male succession to the throne
The Act of Succession was adopted in 1810 after Marshal of France Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Crown Prince of Sweden.
Male and female descendants of Carl XVI Gustaf have the right to succeed to the throne. Older siblings and their descendants take priority over younger siblings and their descendants.
Until the 1970s, Sweden had male succession, but in 1979, the Riksdag decided that female heirs would have equal rights to the throne. This means that Crown Princess Victoria may become Sweden's head of state in the future.
Pure, evangelical, Protestant faith
A king or queen does not have freedom of religion if he or she wishes to retain the right to the throne. This is because the royal family is obliged to profess to the pure, evangelical, Protestant faith, according to the Act of Succession. This is the faith upon which the Church of Sweden is based.
The Government's consent to marriage
The Act of Succession also states that a prince or princess of the royal house must have the Government's consent before getting married. Otherwise they will forfeit the right of succession. Nor are they allowed to become regents of any other country without the permission of the king and the Riksdag.
The Freedom of the Press Act
The freedom of the press is an important democratic right in Sweden. It means that you are free to publish books, journals and newspapers as you wish. The public authorities have no right to examine or censor what you have written in advance.
You have the right to disseminate whatever information you like in printed form, provided that you follow the law. At the same time as the Freedom of the Press Act gives us the right to express ourselves freely, it also protects us against defamation and insulting language and behaviour. If, for example, you write something that may be considered to be agitation against a population group, such as racist comments, or you publish images with elements of sexual violence, this may be regarded as a violation of the Freedom of the Press Act. The same applies if the state or society is threatened through the publication of information that may be regarded as high treason or espionage.
Sweden's extensive freedom of the press and freedom of expression place considerable responsibility on individual newspapers, editors and editorial offices. The press, radio, TV and websites have therefore drawn up their own ethical rules. The ethical rules that apply for the press today have been drawn up by various press organisations.
"Good journalistic practice" means conveying accurate information, being generous in one's contacts, respecting people's privacy and integrity and observing care with the publication of photographs. At the same time, public figures must withstand a greater degree of critical examination compared with "ordinary" people.
The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression
In Sweden, you have the right to have an opinion on anything and say almost anything you want. You have the right to express yourself freely on the radio, TV and the Internet. The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression sets out these rights. It also describes what is not permitted, for example defaming or publicly insulting another person.
The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression from 1991 is our most recent fundamental law and has many similarities with the Freedom of the Press Act.
The Law has emerged alongside the development of new media. Examples of possible offences against the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression include films with elements of sexual violence or threats to the security of the country through the publication of something involving treason or espionage.
Radio, TV, films and new media
The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression applies to radio, TV, films, sound and picture recordings, video and CD recordings, as well as websites and blogs with a journalistic focus. If your website has an editor, it is possible to apply for a certificate of no legal impediment to publication which provides the website with protection under the Constitution. This means that not only media companies, but also organisations and private persons can apply for protection under the Constitution. If there is no editor responsible, ordinary law applies.
Websites containing discussion forums and guest books, for example, are not covered by the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression because their content can be changed by people other than the editorial staff. Provided that each contribution is approved by the editorial staff before it is published, it is however possible to obtain a certificate of no legal impediment to publication.
Public authorities are not permitted to examine what is broadcast on the radio, television or via another form of technical recording in advance. The exception is films shown at the cinema, which is the only form of media for which prior examination by the state is permitted. The Swedish Media Council still classifies films for public screening, giving them different age ratings.
The Riksdag Act - almost a fundamental law
The Riksdag Act contains detailed rules regarding the work procedures of the Riksdag. Until 1974 the Riksdag Act was a fundamental law, but since then it has occupied an intermediate position between fundamental law and ordinary law.
The main provisions of the Riksdag Act can be amended either by means of two identically worded Riksdag decisions with elections in between or by means of a single Riksdag decision taken by qualified majority. A qualified majority in this case means that at least three-quarters of those voting and over half of the members of the Riksdag vote in favour of the decision.
The Riksdag Act is very comprehensive compared with corresponding regulations in other countries. For example, its fourteen chapters set how out meetings of the Chamber are to be conducted and what rules apply as regards the duties of the Speaker.
How proposals are submitted, prepared and determined is also regulated in the Riksdag Act. One of the central chapters is that on the appointment and work procedures of the fifteen parliamentary committees