Amendments to the Constitution of Sweden

The Government Bills A reformed Constitution, Constitutional protection for digital cinema and other matters concerning freedom of expression and The legal status of backup copies have been submitted to the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament).

Amendments are proposed in inter alia, the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression.

Amendments to the Constitution require the Riksdag to take two identical decisions, with a general election in between.

These amendments enter into force on 1 January 2011.

Government Bill A reformed Constitution (Govt. Bill 2009/10:80)

The Government Bill A reformed Constitution (Govt. Bill 2009/10:80) has been submitted to the Riksdag. It is proposed in the Bill that substantial amendments be made to the Instrument of Government, as well as certain amendments to the Elections Act and the Local Government Act. Consequential amendments to other legislation are also proposed.

The Instrument of Government

The Instrument of Government is to be modernised by making it gender neutral and simplifying the language. By rearranging and restructuring the text, the Constitution will be made simpler and clearer. Provisions on courts of law, administration and the municipalities will be placed in chapters of their own.

The provisions contained in the Instrument of Government on fundamental rights and freedoms will be amended in order to further strengthen and clarify protection of individuals against infringement upon their rights and freedoms.

Protection of personal integrity is to be strengthened through a new provision on protection against serious infringements of privacy that entail monitoring or studying an individual's personal situation. In addition, an amendment is proposed that will mean that the main principle of full compensation in cases of expropriation and other such disposition of an individual's property is made clearer.

Protection against discrimination is to be extended to include unfair treatment on the grounds of sexual orientation. Regulation of the protection of rights and freedoms is also to be supplemented by a provision on protection for the freedom of research and a provision on legal proceedings being fair and held within a reasonable period of time.

In addition, it is to be made clear in the Instrument of Government's purpose clause that there is a public responsibility for the protection of children's rights, and for promoting the right of national minorities to retain and develop their own cultural and social life. The Sami people are given special mention in the Instrument of Government.

The provisions on 'judicial reviews' carried out by the courts and other public bodies will be amended. This amendment will mean that a regulation in an act or ordinance that conflicts with the Constitution or other superior statute is not to be applied, even if the mistake is not obvious.

The special position of the municipalities will be highlighted by, among other things, the introduction of a provision stating that a restriction to local self-government should not go beyond what is necessary with regard to the underlying reasons.

A provision will be introduced on an obligatory vote on support for the Prime Minister in the Riksdag following an election.

It is the task of the Council on Legislation to examine, among other things, how legislative proposals relate to the Constitution and the legal system in general, as well as to the requirements of legal security. The examinatory role of the Council on Legislation will be strengthened by expanding its area of examination and making examination obligatory.

A new provision will expressly state that Sweden is a member of the EU and participates in international cooperation within the framework of the UN and the Council of Europe.

The Elections Act

Election day is to be moved from the third to the second Sunday in September to enable amendments to the budget process, which gives a new government better opportunities to influence the contents of its first budget proposal following an election. The provisions on preferential voting are to be amended so that the barrier for preferential votes cast by voters in general elections is reduced to five per cent. Information about preferential voting is to be provided on the ballot paper.

The Local Government Act

Assemblies are to be given the opportunity, under certain circumstances, to decide to hold an extra election between two ordinary elections. This amendment will give the municipalities and the county councils a new instrument for finding solutions to political deadlocks that are rooted in unclear or unstable political majorities that make a functioning government impossible.

The provisions on referendums in connection with 'popular initiatives' are to be amended. A consultative referendum is to be held in a municipality or county council on an issue if at least ten per cent of those entitled to vote request this, as long as at least two thirds of assembly members do not oppose this. This amendment will enable greater democratic influence for the voters in the preparation of matters in municipalities and county councils.

Government Bill Constitutional protection for digital cinema and other matters concerning freedom of expression (Govt. Bill 2009/10:81)

It is proposed in the Bill that 'digital cinema' and other public viewing from databases are to be covered by the constitutional protection in the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. The reason for this proposal is that digital cinema is becoming increasingly common, and our assessment is that almost all production, distribution and showing of films will be digital within a few years. This amendment will enable public viewing from a database to enjoy essentially the same constitutional protection as films shown through the projection of a technical recording.

In order for digital cinema to be examined in advance in the same way as traditional cinema, the exception to the prohibition on censorship in the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression needs to be expanded.

It is also proposed in the Bill that it be made possible - as applies for programmes broadcast over the airwaves - to demand that cable TV broadcasts be designed in such a way that the programmes are available to people with disabilities. This could be achieved through subtitles, sign language interpretation, audio description or texts being read.

Other proposals include clearly stating in the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression that agencies and other public bodies are prohibited to take action against anyone exercising their freedom of the press or freedom of expression. It is also proposed that there be a penal provision for more serious violations of this prohibition. Equivalent rules are to apply to local government enterprises.

Government Bill The legal status of backup copies (Govt. Bill 2009/10:58)

It is proposed in the Bill that a backup copy is not to be regarded as an official document. 'Backup copy' refers to a document that a public authority keeps for the purpose of being able to retrieve information that has been unintentionally lost in an authority's regular system for automated processing. This legislative amendment will entail an addition to the Freedom of the Press Act. This proposal will clarify the present uncertainty concerning the right of access to a public authority's backup copies of information.

The public interest in accessing information on a public authority's activities must be weighed up against the interest of the authority being able to carry out its basic tasks in an efficient and legally secure manner. Interest in access to backup copies of information must also be seen to be limited, as the backup copied documents that are official documents are available in an authority's regular activities.

According to the legal assessment carried out by the Committee of inquiry on e-access to official documents, backup copies may be official documents. Internal agency working material and private messages may then be subject to access by the public, which is not reasonable. Backup copies may also be used to examine an authority's activities in a way that could have negative effects on security.

It is also proposed in the Government Bill that the provision on secrecy concerning the 'tsunami tapes' continue to apply. Secrecy should apply for a maximum of seventy years.