Comparative law and justice/Sweden

Part of the Comparative law and justice Wikiversity Project

Basic Information


Demographic Characteristics


Sweden's population is 9,059,651 people as of July 2009.

Age/gender structure (2009 est)

  • 0-14 years: 15.7% (male 733,597/female 692,194)
  • 15-64 years: 65.5% (male 3,003,358/female 2,927,038)
  • 65 years and over: 18.8% (male 753,293/female 950,171)[1]



Sweden is located in Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, Kattegat, and Skagerrak, between Finland and Norway. The area is 450,295 sq km ((173,746 sq mi) which is slightly larger than California. Sweden is ranked the 55th largest country in the world and it is the largest in Northern Europe and 5th largest in Europe. The capital is Stockholm and it is divided into 21 counties; Blekinge, Dalarnas, Gavleborgs, Gotlands, Hallands, Jamtlands, Jonkopings, Kalmar, Kronobergs, Norrbottens, Orebro, Ostergotlands, Skane, Sodermanlands, Stockholm, Uppsala, Varmlands, Vasterbottens, Vasternorrlands, Vastamanlands and Vasta Gotalands. The climate in the south is temperate with cold, cloudy winters and cool, partly cloudy summers. The North has a subarctic climate. The terrain is mostly flat or gently rolling lowlands with mountains in the west. The lowest point is the reclaimed bay of Lake Hammarsjon located near Kristianstad in the South at -2.41 m (−7.91 ft) below sea level. The highest point is Kebnekaise at 2,111 m (6,926 ft) above sea level. There are over 100,000 lakes and rivers which make up nearly one third of the country's area. Forests cover more than half of the land area.



The Swedes are mostly Protestant, and it is every child's birthright to be a member in the state church, the Church of Sweden. 87% are Lutheran and the other 13% include Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist.

Ethnic Groups


Sweden's indigenous population is mostly Swedes with Finnish and Sami minorities. The foreign-born or first generation immigrants include Finns, Yugoslavs, Danes, Norwegians, Greeks and Turks.



Sweden's official languages is Swedish, with Sami-Finnish,Finnish and English-speakers in the minority.

Economic Development


Due to the peace and neutrality during the 20th century, Sweden has obtained a comfortable standard of living. The people live under capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labor force. Timber, hydro power, and iron ore makeup the resource base of an economy that relies heavily on foreign trade. 90% of industrial output is based on privately owned firms, of which the engineering sector is 50% of output and exports. Agriculture is only 1% of GDP and of employment. Until 2008, Sweden was in the midst of an economic upswing, due to increased domestic demand and strong exports. Sweden was not immune to the recession even with strong finances, deteriorating global conditions, reduced export demand and consumption were all factors. Sweden's GDP is $344.3 billion (2008, ranked 33 in the world).[2] The GDP per capita is 183.1 billion (2008, ranked 24 in the world). Sweden exports commodities that include Machinery, motor vehicles, paper products, pulp and wood, iron and steel products and chemicals. Sweden imports $165.3 billion (2008, ranked 26 in the world) and the commodities include machinery, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, motor vehicles, iron and steel, food stuff, and clothing.[3]

Health and Education


The average life expectancy at birth is ranked number ten in the world. Males are estimated to live up to 78.59 years and females 83.26 years at an average of 80.6 years for the total population. The fertility rate is 1.67 children born per women while the infant mortality rate is a total of 2.75 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is ranked 222 in the world; males are 2.91 deaths per 1,000 live births and females are 2.58 deaths per 1,000 live births.(2009) The literacy rate is 99% of the population. This means that 99% of both males and females over the age of 15 can read and write.

Brief History


Sweden has received influence from many countries abroad, with mostly German influences during the middle-ages and French influences during the 18th century and later a revive in German influence during the 19th century. From 1750 to 1850 modernization of agriculture occurred. “Around 1930, the area used for agricultural production had reached its maximum, and 50 percent of the population were engaged in agriculture. Twenty years later, only some 20 percent lived on the countryside.” Sweden’s culture is diverse due to the immigration at the end and after the glacial period. Their culture is also influenced foreign cultures through TV, music, fashion and food.[4]

The Kingdom of Sweden (Sweden as the conventional short form) received its Independence on June 6, 1523 when Gustav Vasa gained support and was elected king as Gustav I. During the 17th century Sweden was a military power, but in the past two centuries has not participated in any wars and remained an armed neutrality for both World Wars.[5]



Sweden is a Constitutional Monarchy, but is really a parliamentary democracy, because all political power is elected by the people. The current Head of State of Sweden is Carl XVI. He has held this position since 1973. He is merely a representative of the country and only has ceremonial duties. The Head of State has no political powers and does not participate in politics. The Swedish monarchy is purely based on the tradition of the Constitution. Since 1980, succession to the title of Head of State has been given to the first-born child, in this case Crown Princess Victoria who was born in 1977.[6]

Sweden has three levels of government: national, regional and local. In addition, Sweden entered the EU which has caused an increased importance for governing at the European level.[7]

  • National Level

The people are represented by Sweden's Parliament (the Riksdag), which has legislative powers. Proposals for new laws are presented by the Government which also implements decisions taken by the Riksdag. The Government is assisted by the Government Offices, comprising of a number of ministries, and some 300 central government agencies and public administrations.[8] The Government offices, EU policy, constitutional policy, and election issues are coordinated by The Prime Minister. Other ministries include, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Defense etc.[9]

  • Regional Level

Sweden is divided into 21 counties. The county councils and administrative boards (governing bodies of the counties) are in charge with the political tasks at this level. Some public authorities work at regional and local levels.[10]

  • Local Level

Sweden has 290 municipalities with an elected assembly for each municipality(the municipal council.) Their job is to take decisions on municipal matters. The municipal council leads and coordinates work which is appointed by the municipal executive board.[11]

  • European Level

Since entering the EU in 1995 Sweden has acquired another level of government: the European level. As a member of the Union, Sweden is subject to the EU acquis communautaire and takes part in the decision-making process when new rules are drafted and approved. Sweden is represented by its Government in the European Council of Ministers which is the EU's principle decision-making body.[12]



The Swedish Constitution defines the relationship between decision-making and executive power. The 1992 Swedish Local Government Act regulates the divisions into municipalities and the organization and powers of the municipalities and county councils. It also contains rules for elected representatives, municipal councils, executive boards and committees. The division of tasks between central government and municipalities has changed over the years. For Democratic purposes, activities have chiefly been transferred from central government to municipal bodies. In municipalities contact between decision-makers and private individuals are much easier to maintain. The Committee on Public Sector Responsibilities is instructed to look into the division of responsibility between different levels of government.[13] Sweden has four fundamental laws which together make up the Constitution: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression.

  • Instrument of the Government

The basic principles of governing are outlined in The Instrument of Government. This include how the Government works, fundamental freedoms and rights of the people and how the Riksdag elections are to be executed. This was adopted in 1974 which drastically reduced the powers of the monarchy. The position of Head of State remained with the King but all political powers were stripped away. The Speaker of the Riksdag was given the role of appointing the new prime minister.[14]

  • The Act of Succession

The succession to the King or Queen is presented here. Enacted in 1810 and up until 1979, succession went through the male line. The Riksdag decided both males and females could be Head of State.[15]

  • The Freedom of the Press Act

Sweden was the first in the world to give people freedom of press by law (1766.) 1949’s Freedom of the Press Act gave the right to distribute information in printed form but with accountability before the law and gives citizens right to study public documents and access to official documents.[16]



Elections are held every four years for Parliament and municipal and county council. Voters have the responsibility to elect those who are to decide how Sweden is governed and administered. County council are elected by citizens of the specific county. Any Swedish citizen who is 18 and a resident or a previous resident of the country may vote(not mandatory) in general elections and referendums. If you are a member of the EU states of Norway and Iceland and are registered as a resident of Sweden and are 18 than you are eligible to vote in municipal and county elections. All non-Swedish citizens must be registered as a resident in Sweden for more than three years in a row before election day to be able to vote in municipal and county elections.[17]

Judicial Review


"If a court or other public body finds that a provision conflicts with a rule of fundamental law or other superior statute, or finds that a procedure laid down in law has been disregarded in any important respect when the provision was made, the provision shall not be applied. If the provision has been approved by the Riksdag or by the Government, however, it shall be waived only if the error is manifest."[18]

Courts and Criminal Law


There are two types of courts, general and general administrative. General courts deal with criminal and civil cases while general administrative deal with cases involving Sweden's public administration. General Courts are what is called a three-tired hierarchy consisting of courts of appeal, district courts, and the Supreme Court. General Administrative Courts are organized into county administrative courts, administrative courts of appeal and the Supreme Administrative Court.[19] There are also special courts and tribunal designed to hear specific issues, they include the Labor Court, the Market Court and the Rent and Leasehold Tribunals.[20] The Swedish legal system is accusatorial because there is a prosecutor representing the state and a defense attorney representing the defendant. The trials occur without juries, but include a judge and three to five lay judges who cast a vote on the fate of the accused. Higher courts employ only professional judges to hear cases.[21]




To qualify as a Judge, one needs to obtain a Master's of Law Degree. A path of law starting from graduation is taken by most candidates. One would first be a law clerk at district or county administrative court for two years. After this step it is common for most people to be reporting clerks at a court of appeals or administrative court of appeals. Following one year of service there, the person in training would then go back to a district Court for another two years. Then the trainee goes into a period of probation in which he or she will co-opt the bench for one year at the court of appeal or administrative court of appeal. The reporting clerk is then appointed an associated judge. Associated judges and reporting clerks are considered non-permanent judges until appointed by the Government in which they will hold a permanent position. Permanent Judges can be employed to a variety of different positions which include any one of the following; district or county administrative court judges or as judges of appeal at a court of appeal or administrative court of appeal.[22]

Lay Judges


Lay judges work in the district court, court of appeal, county administrative court and administrative court of appeal. “The lay judges are appointed by the municipal council in the municipalities under the territorial jurisdiction of each district court and by the county council assembly in the counties under the jurisdiction of the county administrative court, the administrative court of appeal or the court of appeal.”[23] Each lay judge serve four years in which they use their one vote in taking part in the adjudication of specific important issues and other matters of law.



Once the pre-investigation has been finished, the prosecutor looks at the evidence and then determines if charges should be filed. If there is enough evidence where a guilty verdict would be most likely achieved then the person is taken to court. The role of the prosecutor is to prove those accused of a crime are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In Sweden there is no plea bargaining, everyone who is prosecuted must stand trial. The accused do not have the burden of proving their innocence and can only be prosecuted once they have been informed and allowed to comment on the charges against them. The prosecutor also decides if someone should remain under arrest for the pre-trial appearance, detention is made mainly for crimes involving the possible punishment of jail time. "Twelve hours is the maximum period for which a suspect can be held without a warrant of arrest. The statuary maximum time for arrest is 48 hours. A request for a pre-trial detention order is normally made the same day as the arrest but in extreme cases this time may be extended to, but no longer than, the third day after the arrest. The prosecutor can also decide if special measures need to be taken for the accused. They can get social services involved to deal with the case or a forensic psychiatric examination for the mentally disturbed. ”[24]

Defense Counsels


A defense counsel is appointed when necessary by the court. The counsel must be a member of the Swedish Bar Association and a trained lawyer. Public funds pay for this assistance. If the defendant is well off than he or she may appoint their own private counsel, in that case the private counsel does not have to have any legal training.



Once the court discusses the case and considers only and all the evidence presented at the main hearing, the decision and punishment are announced immediately. Special considerations are made for people with diagnosed mental disorders, like psychiatric treatment with or without special consideration of discharge. Children and young people, along with addicts and mentally disturbed people may receive special treatment.

Prison sentences range from 14 days to 10 years. Sentences going up to 16 years are for more severe crimes. “Life imprisonment is usually converted to a specific length of punishment of around 14-16 years.”[25] Sanctions are based on seriousness of the crime, age and mental state of the perpetrator. “One general principle is that imprisonment should be avoided as far as possible. Thus, it is not possible in any unified manner to say that the normal punishment for a certain crime is a certain type of sanction.”[26] Sweden now has conditional release; once a prisoner has served 2/3 of his sentence he or she will be released. Between July 1, 1983 and July 1, 1993 conditional release was applied for after completion of half of the sentence. Anyone under 18 may not be sentenced to prison unless it’s an extreme case.

Psychiatric treatment is given for crimes in which the defendant suffers from a serious mental disorder and the crime needs to be punished more severe than just a fine. Probation is given as a sanction for crimes worthy of more than just a fine and may be combined with community service or contract care. Conditional sentencing maybe perceived as a compromise with a trial period combined with a fine. Anyone under 21 at the time of sentencing may be placed in the care of social services combined with a fine. If a person commits a crime and is a drug abuser who may be in danger to himself or a relative, the sanction could not lead to a more severe punishment than one year imprisonment may be sentenced to treatment under the care of alcoholics and drug abusers act.[27]

A person’s financial status and severity of the crime determines the amount of a day-fine. These fines are given out based on a magnitude scale from no less than 30 and no more than 150 or a joint punishment for several crimes with a maximum of 200 on the scale. The amount of the fine is from 30 SEK to 1000 SEK. Police can only give a maximum of 1,200 SEK for a fine. Summary punishment is a fine that is issued by the prosecutor if the defendant admits to the crime. This eliminates court proceedings but is only used for simple crimes that would lead to a fine or in some cases six months in prison. Young people are typically not prosecuted. Forfeiture on property usually occurs for tools of crime, profits of crime or objects produced by means of crime. Anyone not a Swedish national may be forced to leave the country and never return, this is called expulsion. If private property is destroyed or personal injury occurs the accused may pay damages to the plaintiff. Finally, serious driving offenses or repeated offenses require the person’s license to be taken away in administrative court.[28]

Number and type of Sanctions for 1993

  • Prison: 15,872
  • Psychiatric treatment: 372
  • Probation: 6,274
    • with contract care, 620
    • with community service program: 310
  • Conditional sentence: 11,916
  • Treatment within the social services: 1,480
  • Fines: 111,560
    • Day and monetary fines: 35,808
    • Summary punishment: 75,752
  • Failure to prosecute: 13,942
  • Other sanctions: 2,964
  • Total persons sanctioned or prosecuted: 164,380
    • Additional On-the-spot fines: 199,144

The death penalty was abolished in Sweden in 1921 for peace time and in 1973 also for war time.

The data on sanctions was provided by THE WORLD FACTBOOK OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEMS[29]

The majority of crimes and offenses, in particular traffic offenses, are sanctioned by police officers or prosecutors in the form of summary fines. Fines are used for less serious crimes, and range from the minimum of 100 and a maximum of 2,000 SEK. Prisons in Sweden are divided on the national and local level. There are a total of 77 prisons. People with sentences longer than one year or require extra security go to the national level. Local institutions are for those with sentences up to one year. There are 17 national prisons with 1,904 beds and 60 local prisons with 2,885 beds in 1994. “The average number of prisoners for the fiscal year 1992/1993 was 3,830.”[30] The number of annual admissions for the year 1992 was 13,836. As of March 1, 1993, 26.8 % of the prisoners were foreign citizens and 5% were female.[31]

Crime and Annual Admissions

  • Violent crimes: 2,368 (17.1%)
  • Sex crimes: 270 (2.0%)
  • Property crimes: 3,139 (22.7%)
  • Robbery: 417 (3.0%)
  • Fraud: 1,139 (8.2%)
  • Drunken driving: 2,562 (18.5%)
  • Other traffic: 532 (3.8%)
  • Drug offenses: 1,298 (9.4%)
  • Other: 2,111 (15.3%[32]

Law Enforcement


The Justice System is organized into the Government and the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Board and the National Forensic Laboratory along with county administrative boards, county police commissioners and police authorities/areas. The policing system is a central administrative authority ran by the National Police Board which dictates the Government’s priorities and guidelines for operations as well as ensures appropriate police procedures along with the overall proper functioning of police work. The National Police Board includes The National Police Board’s central administrative authority, The National Criminal Investigation Department, and The National Police College. The National Forensic Laboratory (SKL, the central Swedish lab of forensic investigations) is also operating under the National Police Board.[33]

Serious crimes with national or international consequences are managed by the National Police Board (RPS). The National Criminal Investigation Department manages police activities carried on by RPS. The National Investigation Department provides reinforcements for local police organizations. This department provides assistance with investigations work in connection with murder investigations and other violent crimes, drug offenses, and car theft for export. UN police activities and Interpol activities are also done by the National Investigation Department.[34]

New police officers are trained by the National police Board at The Police College. There, people are trained to become police officers, along with courses on police management, contracts, and research and development work. Two careers are pursued at this college and those are for uniformed police officers and criminal investigators. To qualify as a recruit one needs to be a Swedish citizen, obtain a high school education, work for one year outside of police work, have a drivers license, be at least twenty years old and have the ability to swim well. Training is a three year program which includes ten months of basic training and eighteen months training in one of the police districts and finished off with five months final training back at the Police College. Of 5,812 applicants for police officer training in 1994 only 191 were accepted of which 51 were female.[35] To become a criminal investigator a little more work is required in the form of a University degree in law. Training for police commissioner recruits lasts three years which includes courses on theoretical studies in police work, analysis and planning, administration and workplace psychology. Training in all areas of criminal justice such as police, courts and prosecutors is mandatory. 700 people applied for police commissioner training and only 30 were accepted in 1991.[36]

All complaints about police work are sent to a police authority thus helping in the prevention of Corruption. There, an investigation will ensue not by the police but the public prosecutor. If the matter is not severe it will be sent beck to the police authority where discipline will or will not be handed out by the personnel disciplinary board. In 1993 a total of 1,048 reports against police authorities were made and of these 162 were of ill treatment.[37] “During this period just under 40,000 persons were deprived of their freedom in accordance with the investigative routine. Recently the Stockholm police have been trying out a system of citizen witnesses, i.e. laymen who observe work at the police station.”[38]

The Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten, is an agency that maintains peace, trains and deploys military forces abroad and defends the country in war. This is a completely different agency from justice and has no connection. There are special areas of the police that involve marine policing. This section maintains safety and order at sea. They work with the coast guard and customs to guard the coast and restricted areas. The marine police also help assisting in rescue assignments.[39]

Crime Rates and Public Opinion


INTERPOL Data for Sweden containing the seven crimes on the FBI's crime Index(murder, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) show that Sweden's crime rate is relatively high compared with other modern nations. INTERPOL data for 2001 for murder was 10.01 per 100,000 population for Sweden. The statistic for rape was 23.39 and for robbery was 95.83 and 667.42 for aggravated assault. The larceny rate was 6,988.81 and 495.21 for motor vehicle theft. The rate for all index offenses is 9,604.57. Sweden has a low crime rate in regard to murder and major assault, a medium crime rate in regard to rape and robbery, and an exceedingly high rate in regard to property crimes (burglary, larceny, and auto theft).[40] The majority of Sweden's crime is against property. The number of property crimes was slightly over 560,000 making it 41% of the crime reported in 2008. These offenses consist of burglary, car theft and various other forms of robbery.[41]

Data taken from the World Values Survey show that 12.5% of people have a "great deal of confidence in the police", while 65.3% of people have "quite a lot", 19.7% have "not very much", and 2.5% have "none at all". Another World Values Survey question that asked what is second most important issues for Sweden with choices such as "a stable economy", "progress toward a less impersonal and more humane society", "ideas count more than money", "the fight against crime". With 36.2% of the vote, "the fight against crime" was determined to be the second most important issue for the people of Sweden. Sweden's confidence in the justice system had 15.1% for "a great deal", 59.2% for "quite a lot", 21.7% for "not very much" and 4.0% for none at all"[42]



Family Law


Family Law in Sweden is mainly from the Marriage code which was adopted in 1988 and the code pertaining to parents, guardians, and children adopted in 1949. The Marriage code makes the spouses equal. "The general principle is that each spouse is the owner of her or his property and is solely responsible for her or his debts."[43] Spouses are treated as individuals except in rules on property taxes and parts of social security and pension law.[44] A spouse does have some legal restrictions on what they can do to his or her common home without the consent of the other spouse. If a pre-nuptial agreement was not signed then pre-marital wealth and inheritance can be distributed amongst the former spouses. Inherited assets or gifts are excluded if an agreement is made where it does not become marital property.[45] Inheritance property is given to the surviving spouse and surviving children once the spouse has died.[46] Adoption in Sweden is a very common practice. Recently inter-country adoption has become common. In the past thirty years, more than 40,000 children have been adopted from other countries. Around 800 children come into the country each year from all parts of the world. Adopted children in Sweden have the same rights as biological children, and adoptive parents have the same rights as biological parents. Sweden’s social security system allows for paid paternity leave for 480 days along with sickness and unemployment benefits.[47] All children in Sweden get free medical care including operations and dental care until the age of twenty. Parents must be approved by the Social Welfare Board in order to adopt a child. For inter-country adoption parents visit a compulsory parental education to get information about the needs of the adopted children.[48] As of May 1, 2009 same sex marriages are allowed in Sweden. The law was past with great support. "Of 349 members of parliament, 261 voted in favour, 22 were opposed to the proposal, 16 abstained and 50 were absent."[49] This law gives same sex couples all of the legal and social

Human Rights


The fundamental rights of the people of Sweden are outlined in the Instrument of the Government. The first article states "All public power in Sweden proceeds from the people. Swedish democracy is founded on the free formation of opinion and on universal and equal suffrage. It shall be realized through a representative and parliamentary polity and through local self-government."[50] Article two states "Public power shall be exercised with respect for the equal worth of all and the liberty and dignity of the private person."[51] Chapter two of the Instrument of the Government outlines the fundamental rights being protected.

"Art. 1. Every citizen shall be guaranteed the following rights and freedoms in his relations with the public institutions:

1. Freedom of expression: that is, the freedom to communicate information and express thoughts, opinions and sentiments, whether orally, pictorially, in writing, or in any other way;

2. Freedom of information: that is, the freedom to procure and receive information and otherwise acquaint oneself with the utterances of others;

3. Freedom of assembly: that is, the freedom to organize or attend a meeting for the purposes of information or the expression of opinion or for any other similar purpose, or for the purpose of presenting artistic work;

4. Freedom to demonstrate: that is, the freedom to organize or take part in a demonstration in a public place;

5. Freedom of association: that is, the freedom to associate with others for public or private purposes;

6. Freedom of worship: that is, the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others."[52]

On January 1, 2009 The Anti Discrimination Act went into play. This fights discrimination based on, trans-gender identity or expression, age, (these are the only two differences from other anti-discrimination laws in the past) ethnicity, religion or other form of belief, one's disability, and or sexual orientation. This act applies to most areas of society, including one's work life, education, social insurance system, health care, military service, public appointments, goods and other services.

There are many acts and policies designed to fight discrimination amongst women (The UN Charter, The CEDAW Convention, The European Union, Second Chapter of the Instrument of the Government, and The UN CEDAW Committee), disabled people (The Swedish Disability Policy) and minorities (Sami (an indigenous people), the Swedish Finns, the Tornedalers, the Roma and the Jews are all minorities that are specially recognized because of the length of time existing within the culture of Sweden so are therefore nationally recognized.)[53]

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