Sweden is a monarchy in which a King or Queen holds the office of the Head of State. The eldest child of the incumbent Head of State inherits the title. Sweden’s Head of State is the nation’s supreme representative however, he or she is not vested with any political power.
Sweden is governed at three different administrative levels: the central level, the regional or county level and the local level. Elections to the county and local governments take place every four years on the same day as elections to the Riksdag. The central public bodies include the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament), the Government and its ministries, and the central government agencies.
At the regional level, Sweden is divided into 21 counties, each with a county administrative board. The county administrative boards represent the central government at the county level and are headed by a County Governor appointed by the Government. The boards are responsible for police matters, some social welfare issues and regional social planning. Sweden is also divided into 23 county council districts. The main scope of their responsibility is medical and health care.
There are 289 municipalities in Sweden. All municipalities are obliged to provide certain basic services, including education, nursery care, homes for the elderly, social welfare services and environmental and health protection measures.
The Constitution of Sweden is made up of four fundamental laws:
• The 1974 Instrument of Government embodies the basic political principles by which the state is governed. It defines and delimits the tasks of government, establishes basic rights and freedoms and prescribes the procedures for general elections to the Riksdag.
• The Act of Succession of 1810 sets out the rules governing the choice of successor to the Swedish throne, i.e. the person who will succeed as Head of State.
• The provisions in the 1949 Freedom of the Press Act protect the freedom of the press and the right of public access to official documents.
• The 1991 Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression protects freedom of expression in media such as radio, television, and cinema, as well as in new media.
Executive power in Sweden is vested in the Head of State and the Government.
King Carl XVI Gustaf is the Head of State of Sweden since 1973. In this capacity he is the representative of the entire country and as such, has only ceremonial duties and functions. The Head of State has no prerogative political power and does not participate in political life. The Swedish monarchy is purely constitutional. He or she is regularly informed of the "affairs and concerns of the realm" and chairs the Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs. At the beginning of each parliamentary year, the Head of State opens the coming year's session at the Riksdag. The Head of State does not take part in the deliberations of the Government and is not required to sign any Government decisions.
In 1979, the Act of Succession was amended to grant equal rights to the crown of both male and female heirs to the throne. Since 1980, this right has fallen on the first-born child, irrespective of sex.
The Government draws up and submits legislative proposals to the Riksdag, implements decisions taken by the Riksdag, allocates the funds appropriated by the Riksdag for expenditure on items in the budget, represents Sweden in the EU, enters into agreements with other States, directs the activities and operations of the executive branch, and takes decisions in certain administrative areas not within the scope of other authorities. In addition, the Government issues directives of its own, known as ordinances.
Prior to the formation of a new government the Speaker of the Riksdag must summon one or more leaders of each parliamentary party for separate consultations. After conferring with the party leaders the Speaker nominates a candidate for the post of Prime Minister. The Speaker’s motion is then put to the vote in the Chamber of the Riksdag. The proposal is rejected if more than half the members of the Riksdag vote against it. Should the Riksdag reject the proposal on four successive occasions, a new general election must be called unless an ordinary general election is due to take place within three months of the last rejection. If the Speaker’s proposal is adopted, however, the newly elected Prime Minister proceeds to form government.
Legislative power is vested in the Swedish Parliament (Rikstag). All major political decisions must be approved by the people’s representatives seated in the Riksdag. This sovereign assembly also supervises the activities of the government in office and has the power to depose it. The main functions of the Riksdag are to pass new laws, decide on matters relating to reforms, taxation and public finances and to comment on the Government’s foreign policy.The Riksdag’s 349 members are chosen in a general election held every fourth year. To be elected to the Riksdag a candidate must be a member of a political party. The number of seats allocated to each party is directly proportional to the number of votes received by that party in the latest general election. A party receiving less than four per cent of the total number of votes cast in the country as a whole may not sit in the Riksdag unless it has polled at least 12 per cent of the votes in a particular constituency.
The legislative process in Sweden commences with the majority of proposals for new legislation being introduced by the Government. These proposals are known as Government bills. Special inquiry commissions, often comprising of the members of different political parties examine more complex issues.
The commissions' reports are normally circulated for comment amongst various authorities, organizations and others that might be affected by the proposals, and when the bill is drafted these comments and viewpoints are taken into account. Major proposals for legislation are also submitted to a special judicial authority, the Council on Legislation, before being presented to the Riksdag. Members of the Riksdag are allowed 15 days, as from the day on which the Chamber was notified of a Government bill, to introduce motions containing counter-proposals. All draft legislation and other business must be prepared by a Riksdag committee before a final decision can be taken in the Chamber. There are 16 permanent committees, each with a special area of responsibility. The work of the committee results in a report that contains recommendations as to how the Riksdag should decide in the matter.
Once a committee report has been submitted to the Chamber, the matter is decided at a plenary meeting. In certain cases a matter is debated before a decision is taken. If the members are not in agreement when a decision is due to be taken, a vote may be called.
When a decision has been taken in the Chamber, it is then the task of the Government to implement the decision of the Riksdag. In the case of a new law this involves a number of measures, including publication in the Swedish Code of Statutes (SFS).
Judicial Power in Sweden in divided between the general courts and special courts.
There are two general court organisations; the general courts and the general administrative courts. These organisations are, in all material respects, parallel and are structured as a triple instance system. The general courts consist of district courts, courts of appeal and the Supreme Court, while the general administrative courts consist of county administrative courts, administrative courts of appeal and the Supreme Administrative Court. A number of courts of special jurisdiction exist beside these Courts, e.g the Labour Court, the Market Court and the Court of Patent Appeals.
Sweden does not have a constitutional court. However, particular courts have jurisdiction to conduct statutory review of legislation in order to ascertain whether the provisions in question comply with the superior provisions of the Constitution.
Among the general courts, the district courts are the courts of first instance. There are 95 district courts. At each district court, there are a number of lay judges. These are elected by the municipal council for those municipalities, which are within the circuit of the district court. They are elected for a term of four years. The lay judges participate in the adjudication of both matters of fact and matters of law in a case, and each judge has one vote.
As regards the court of intermediate instance for the general courts, there are six courts of appeal in Sweden. The Supreme Court is the highest court of instance for the general courts. It consists of at least 16 judges, all entitled Justices of the Supreme Court. Before a case is taken up for examination, leave to appeal is normally required. A condition for the grant of leave is either that it is of importance for the judicial process that the case be examined, or that a grave procedural error occurred in the course of the proceedings at the court of first instance.
The county administrative court is the court of first instance among the general administrative courts. There are 23 county administrative courts. The administrative courts of appeal are the courts of intermediate instance among the general administrative courts. There are four administrative courts of appeal. The Supreme Administrative Court is the highest instance among the general administrative courts. It consists of 17 members entitled Justices of the Supreme Administrative Court. The rules on leave to appeal are substantially the same as those applicable to the Supreme Court.
The Justices of the Supreme Court and Justices of the Supreme Administrative Court occasionally serve in the Council on Legislation. The Council on Legislation is often called upon to issue a statement of opinion before the Government brings important legislative proposals before the Riksdag. The Council on Legislation, which normally consists of three members, scrutinises the proposed legislation from the legal viewpoint. The Government is not obliged to abide by the opinion of the Law Council.
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