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Swedish Law – Global Legal Collection Highlights

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This blog post is part of our Global Legal Collection Highlights series intended to introduce readers to various foreign legal collections and resources.

The creation of a nation is a particularly complex and difficult task. One might say that it often involves blood, sweat, and tears, as well as possibly toil and terror; the types of events that might be seen in epic movies. It also involves the precise drafting of legal texts (think the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution).

Kungliga Majestäts & Rikets Ständers Regeringsform 6 juni 1809 (Instrument of Government [Swedish Constitution] June 6, 1809) (photo by Elin Hofverberg)
Kungliga Majestäts & Rikets Ständers Regeringsform 6 juni 1809 (Instrument of Government [Swedish Constitution] June 6, 1809) (photo by Elin Hofverberg)
Last month, on June 6, Sweden celebrated its National Day (nationaldagen). The designation of June 6 as a  national holiday in Sweden actually occurred relatively recently, in 2005. Similar to Norway’s Syttende Mai, which celebrates the adoption of the Norwegian constitution, nationaldagen marks the creation of the Swedish Constitution. Sweden adopted its first national constitution on June 6, 1809.  Nationaldagen also marks the election of Gustav Vasa as king on June 6, 1523. After being divided in several smaller landskap (regions) with their own leaders, the country was largely united under Gustav Vasa as Svea Rike.

Not only is June 6 the anniversary of Vasa being elected king and of the first constitution, it is the day on which the 1974 reform of the Instrument of Government (Regeringsformen) was completed. Unlike other countries (such as Denmark and Norway) the Swedish Constitution is not made up of one piece of legislation, but four: The Regeringsformen (RF), Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen [Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression] (YGL), Tryckfrihetsförordningen [Freedom of the Press Act] (TF), and Successionsordningen [The Act of Succession] (SO). The Riksdagsordningen [The Riksdag Act] (RO) also has special status as it requires a specific procedure to amend it, but it is not part of the Constitution. RF is the constitutional text that divides powers between citizens, government, the king, and Parliament. YGL and TF recognize additional rights and freedoms. SO marks how the royal throne is inherited. Since 1980, a female heir has been able to inherit the throne also, ahead of a younger brother.

Library Holdings

The Law Library has both the current and past Swedish constitutions on file, including the preparatory works where you can read about the specific considerations that were entertained before the adoption of the 1974 RF, as well as the 2010 amendments.

Although the best place to start when faced with an issue of Swedish law is still with the black letter law, a survey of case law and legislative history might be helpful. Legislative history is often quoted in Swedish law and more recent publications are available from the Swedish government website.

My trusted source of Swedish law is Sveriges Rikes Lag, commonly referred to in Sweden as “the law book.” Sweden does not have a civil code like that of France (Code Civil) but instead has designated its most important legislation as Balkar, which confusingly enough translates as Codes in English. Each balk deals with a different legal topic and the law book is organized in a “from cradle to grave manner” starting with the Marriage Code, followed by the:

Law Library of Congress holdings of Sveriges Rikes Lag (An annual compilation of Swedish laws in force at time of publication) (photo by Elin Hofverberg)
Law Library of Congress holdings of Sveriges Rikes Lag (An annual compilation of Swedish laws in force at time of publication) (photo by Elin Hofverberg)

In addition, the law book includes sizeable appendices with laws that do not fit under the code categories mentioned above. Each category also includes certain ordinances and related separate acts. The reason behind the organization, which dates back to the adoption of Sveriges Rikes Lag 1734 (Codes of the Realm of Sweden), is to make it accessible to non-lawyers. Sweden had the world’s highest literacy rate in the 1700s with a majority of the population literate. (Jan Sundin and Sam Willner, Social Change and Health in Sweden). Some even claiming that more than 90% of the Swedish population could read during the 1700s (Husförhör och läskunnighet Wasling), which is not so surprising considering that a Church law from 1686 ordered that the people must educated in reading (Kyrkolag SFS 1686:0903).

The Law Library of Congress has every publication of the Nordstedt’s Sveriges Rikes Lag from 1935 onward as well as individual copies from the 1800s.

The most recent version of Sveriges Rikes Lag that includes new legislation that was in force as of January 1, 2018, is available at the Law Library. The Law Library also has the Karnov lagsamling, which includes commentary to the legislation with references to court cases etc.

If you know the year in which a certain law was enacted but have no or limited additional information, you may want to consult the bound version of the Swedish gazette (Svensk författningssamling), which the Law Library receives annually.

In addition, Swedish Supreme Court cases are available at the Law Library. The cases are published in Nytt Juridiskt Arkiv and each case can be located by finding the year of publication and the page number.

The Law Library holds more than 6,000 titles covering Swedish law (this figure includes the annual legislation compilation and court reporters).

Although the vast majority of our law material for Sweden is in Swedish, we have a number of useful treatises and translated legislation available to our English- speaking patrons.

For instance, the Law Library holds a translated copy of the most recently amended version of the Swedish Constitution (2010).

English Materials:

Translated Legislation:

In addition to recent material, the collection of Swedish law materials also includes laws from as early as the 1600s but these are part of the rare book collection. Nathan Dorn, the Law Library’s Rare Book Curator, kindly showed me a copy of the original text of the above mentioned Swedish Church Law dating back to 1686. Although parts of the law was in force into the 1990s it was amended several times so getting to read the original text was a real treat!

The Law Library also holds a number of books on other interesting legal topics.

For instance, do you wonder how Sweden managed its banking crisis in the 1990s? Here are two titles that may help you understand it better:

For short updates on Swedish law, see our Global Legal Monitor publication, The Guide to Law Online: Sweden and the Legal Research Guide: Sweden are also useful starting points for your research. .

For a guide to the Swedish collection (incorporating both legal and non-legal material) you may visit the Library of Congress overview of the Swedish collection.

Please stop by to check out our new additions and let us know if we can help you find anything.

Like the United States and Norway, Sweden has a holiday to mark their independence and that independence is marked by legal documents (declaration of independence, Grundlov, Regeringsformen). Law matters!

Update: This was originally published as a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. The author information has been updated to reflect that Elin is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.

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