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 to the fundamental laws, Sweden has a Riksdag Act. This has a unique status in between constitutional and ordinary law.
The Constitution takes precedence over all other laws. In other words, the content of other laws may never conflict with what is stated in the Constitution.
More difficult to amend
The fundamental laws are more difficult to amend than other laws. There should be time for reflection and ensuring that the consequences have been thoroughly considered before changes are made. This is designed to protect our democracy.
To make an amendment to the Constitution, the Riksdag must adopt two decisions of identical wording with a general election between the two decisions. 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. This possibility was introduced in 1980, but has not been made use of to date. 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 only binding if a majority vote against the proposal. In this case, the Riksdag cannot make an amendment to the Constitution. The possibility to hold a referendum on constitutional matters 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.
Written rules determining how the country shall be governed have existed ever since the 14th century. The first Instrument of Government was issued in 1634. In 1809, an Instrument of Government was enacted which set out, among other things, the division of powers between the King and the Riksdag.
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.
Starts with the foundations of democratic society
The Instrument of Government starts by setting out the foundations of democratic society and establishes that all public power in Sweden proceeds from the people. This means that the citizens exercise an influence through the politicians that are voted to represent them in the Riksdag, municipalities and county councils. This is known as representative democracy. The opening chapter also states that the Riksdag enacts the laws, the King or Queen shall be Head of State, the Government governs the Realm and the courts shall observe objectivity and impartiality.
The fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens are central to the Instrument of Government. It is clearly stated that capital punishment is prohibited in Sweden.
The Instrument of Government describes in general terms how the Riksdag is elected and how its work shall be organised. The procedures for forming a government and rules relating to the work of the Government are also set out. It includes rules on when the Riksdag shall enact laws and what matters can be decided by the Government. Furthermore, it sets out how the Riksdag goes about amending the Constitution.
One of the Riksdag's tasks is to monitor and examine the work of the Government. The Instrument of Government contains provisions on the Riksdag's parliamentary control functions.
It also contains rules regarding international cooperation and rules relating to the courts and public agencies. The fact that self-government applies in Sweden's municipalities is also set out in the Instrument of Government.
Full version of The Instrument of Government
Read the full version of The Instrument of Government and of the other fundamental laws on the page Documents and laws:
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.
Female and male succession to the throne
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 and can also become head of state.
Full version of The Act of Succession
Read the full version of The Act of Succession and of the other fundamental laws on the page Documents and laws:
The Freedom of the Press Act
The freedom of the press is an important democratic right in Sweden. It means that anyone is free to publish books, journals and newspapers as they wish. The public authorities have no right to examine or censor what has been written in advance.
Anyone has the right to disseminate whatever information they like in printed form, provided that they 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, someone writes something that may be considered to be agitation against a population group, such as racist comments, or publishes 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.
The principle of public access to official documents
The Freedom of the Press Act also contains the principle of public access to official documents. According to this principle, everyone is entitled to access official documents. The principle of public access to official documents is a guarantee that makes the work of the Riksdag, government and public agencies transparent. Everyone is entitled to contact a public authority and request a copy of an official document. Anyone requesting access to an official document does not need to provide their name or any details of how the document will be used.
Full version of The Freedom of the Press Act
Read the full version of The Freedom of the Press Act and of the other fundamental laws on the page Documents and laws:
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 Law has been extended 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 or society 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.
Public agencies 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.
Full version of The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression
Read the full version of The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression and of the other fundamental laws on the page Documents and laws:
The Riksdag Act - almost a fundamental law
The Riksdag Act contains 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 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 to 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. One of the central chapters is that on the appointment and work procedures of the fifteen parliamentary committees. How proposals are submitted, prepared and determined is also regulated in the Riksdag Act.
Full version of The Riksdag Act
Read the full version of The Riksdag Act and of the fundamental laws on the page Documents and laws: