The Principle of Public Access
The principle of public access means that the general public and the mass media newspapers, radio and television are to be guaranteed an unimpeded view of activities pursued by the government and local authorities.
The principle of public access manifests itself in various ways:
- everyone is allowed to read public documents held by public authorities (public access to official documents)
- civil servants and others who work in the central government sector or for local authorities have the right to tell outsiders what they know (freedom of expression for civil servants and others)
- civil servants also enjoy special freedoms to provide information to the mass media (freedom to publish for civil servants and others)
- court proceedings are open to the public, as are meetings of legislative assemblies.
Public access to official documents
In principle, all individuals - whether citizens of Sweden or of another country - have the right to read official documents held by public authorities. However, this right is subject to two restrictions:
- the general public is entitled to read only those official documents that are classified as public documents
- some public documents are secret.
What is a public document?
A document is public if it is held by a public authority and is considered in the light of certain special rules to have been officially received or drawn up by that authority. The document may be an ordinary document on paper, but it can equally well consist of information that can be read, listened to or taken in in some other way using technical aids. Anyone who wishes to study a particular public document can address themselves to the relevant authority.
Which documents may be kept secret?
In certain cases, public documents may be kept secret, namely, when secrecy is needed to protect one or more of the following interests:
- the security of the realm or its relations with another sovereign state or international organisation
- national fiscal, monetary or currency policy
- inspection, control and other supervisory operations carried out by public authorities
- the prevention or prosecution of crimes
- the economic interests of the general public
- protection of the personal and economic position of private individuals
- protection of animal or plant species.
If secret information is to be presented or adduced in court proceedings, the court is generally permitted to hold proceedings in closed session. Hearings involving persons under the age of fifteen or persons suffering from any form of mental disturbance may also be held in closed session.