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Summary

The Swedish Parliament has four means of exercising review power over the Cabinet and  its Ministers: the Konstitutionsutskottet (KU) (Committee on the Constitution), which holds hearings and can initiate prosecution of Ministers for illegal acts committed in office; the right of individual Members of Parliament to question the Ministers; the collective Parliament’s right to remove a sitting Minister for reasons of “no confidence”; and the independent parliamentary agency Parliamentary Ombudsmen, which prosecutes Ministers for illegal acts and reviews the legality of actions taken by government agencies and their staff. No Minister has ever been removed by Parliament, and no prosecution has been initiated by the KU.

I. Introduction

Sweden is a parliamentary kingdom—that is, the King is the head of state,[1] whereas the Prime Minister (PM) is the head of the government and forms a Regering (Cabinet, or government) with the other Ministers, which the PM appoints.[2] The government governs the country and is accountable to the Swedish Parliament.[3] To exercise checks on the government is one of the  main purposes of the Swedish Parliament.[4] There are in principle three means by which the Parliament directly yields this power: the Konstitutionsutskottet (the Committee on the Constitution), the right of individual Members of Parliament (MPs) to question the Ministers,  and the collective Parliament’s right to remove a sitting Minister for reasons of “no  confidence.”[5] The executive branch’s powers are also constrained by judicial review and efficiency review (i.e., by having other agencies review the courts and government agencies with regard to the legality of their actions and their fiscal responsibility).[6] Only parliamentary review of the executive is discussed in this report.[7]

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II. Parliamentary Review of the Executive

A. Konstitutionsutskottet (Committee on the Constitution)

It is the Konstitutionsutskottet (KU) (Constitution Committee) that is tasked with ensuring that the Swedish government follows the rules for the government—namely, the  Swedish Constitution and Swedish law.[8] The KU is a committee consisting of forty-four members representing all parties of Parliament.[9]  The KU has the power to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and request classified materials from MPs.[10] The KU can act on its own (ex officio) or in response to complaints (anmälningar) from MPs.[11] Thus, citizens cannot directly lodge a complaint with the KU.[12] The KU is not a court; however, it can initiate the prosecution of crimes.[13] Crimes committed by MPs in their capacity as MPs are prosecuted by the KU and decided by the Supreme Court.[14] Typically the KU issues only a “critique” of certain actions, which are later debated in the parliamentary chamber.[15]   A severe critique may cause the Parliament to remove a Minister through a successful no-confidence vote but, to date, no Minister has been removed through a no-confidence vote.[16] At least once a year the KU must report what it has investigated and what its findings are.[17]   During parliamentary year 2016/2017 the KU received a total of thirty-two complaints from MPs,[18] none of which resulted in the initiation of any prosecutions.[19] The operation of the KU is further regulated in the Riksdagsordning (Work Instructions for the Parliament).[20]

B. Utfrågningar(Questions from Members of Parliament)

Members of Parliament have the right to ask Ministers questions in the chamber (interpellation debates) as well as on-the-spot questions.[21] Questions asked in the Parliament chamber must pertain to a certain issue and must be answered directly.[22]  The MPs also have the right to present written questions to a Minister; questions delivered before 10:00 a.m. Thursday must be answered by noon the following Wednesday.[23]

C. Misstroendeförklaring (No-Confidence Declaration)

As previously mentioned, any Minister can be removed from his or her position through a “declaration of no confidence” (misstroendeförklaring) by the Parliament, whereby a majority of the MPs must vote in favor of impeaching the Minister.[24] Before a vote can take place, a minimum of thirty-five MPs (10% of the Members) must petition for a no-confidence vote to be held.[25] The most recent no-confidence votes occurred in 2015.[26] A total of seven no-confidence votes have been held, none of which have been successful. The one that came closest to passing was in 1980 against Prime Minister Torbjörn Fälldin, when 174 MPs voted for impeachment and 175 against.[27] One minister, Justice Minister Anna-Greta Leijon, decided to step down prior to a 1988 no-confidence vote.[28]

D. Riksdagens ombudsmän (Parliamentary Ombudsmen)

The independent parliamentary review agency Riksdagens ombudsmän, also known as the Justititeombundsman (JO) (Parliamentary Ombudsmen) investigates all government agencies and employees to ensure that they follow the rule of law.[29] As created in the new Constitution of 1809, the JO was one of the first agencies of its kind in the world to conduct independent legal reviews of executive agencies.[30] The JO is directly responsible to Parliament, and the ombudsmen are chosen by Parliament, but the ombudsmen cannot be MPs (unlike the KU members, who must be MPs).[31] The JO, ex officio, or upon request, may investigate the legality of the actions of all government agencies and employees.[32] In addition, the JO must prosecute any criminal case against a Minister after receiving a prosecution recommendation from the KU.[33] Although the JO prosecutes Ministers, it does not investigate Ministers’ actions, as this falls under the competency of the KU.[34] Any member of the public may ask the JO to investigate a breach of law committed by an agency or employee.[35]  The complaint must be made in writing and cannot be anonymous.[36]

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III. Recommended Sources for Further Research

The items cited in the footnotes are the most useful sources for research.

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Prepared by Elin Hofverberg
Foreign Law Research Consultant
August 2017


[1] kap. 5 § [1:5] REGERINGSFORMEN [RF] [INSTRUMENT OF GOVERNMENT] [CONSTITUTION], https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/kungorelse-1974152-om-beslutad-ny-regeringsform_sfs-1974-152, unofficial English translation available on the Swedish Parliament website, at http://www.riksdagen.se/en/SysSiteAssets/07.-dokument--lagar/the-instrument-of-government-2015.pdf (last visited July 11, 2017).

[2] 6:1 RF.

[3] 1:4 RF, 1:6 RF.

[4] 1:4 RF.

[5] 13 kap. RF; for an overview of parliamentary oversight of the executive, see Examines the Work of the Government, SVERIGES RIKSDAG, https://www.riksdagen.se/en/how-the-riksdag-works/what-does-the-riksdag-do/examines-the-work-of-the-government (last reviewed Dec. 16, 2016).

[6] Justitieombudsmannen (JO), or Riksdagens ombudsman (Parliamentary Ombudsmen) is a parliamentary agency that reviews actions taken by government agencies and the courts to determine whether they have followed the law. The JO may also, ex officio, initiate prosecution of officials who have violated the law in their capacity as government officials. The Swedish National Audit Office audits the government agencies. A Parliamentary Agency, JO, http://www.jo.se/en/About-JO/The-Parliamentary-agency (last updated Feb. 4, 2014). Sweden was reportedly among the first countries in the world to establish a parliamentary agency to review the work of government agencies when it established the JO in 1809. Internationellt samarbete, JO, http://www.jo.se/sv/Om-JO/Internationellt-samarbete (last updated Oct. 17, 2014); see also LAG MED INSTRUKTION FÖR RIKSDAGENS OMBUDSMAN [Act on Instruction for the Parliamentary Ombudsmen] (SVENSK FÖRFATTNIGNSSAMLING [SFS] 1986:765), https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/lag-1986765-med-instruktion-for-riksdagens_sfs-1986-765.

[7] For more about judicial and efficiency review, see About JO, JO, http://www.jo.se/en/About-JO (last updated June 9, 2013) and A Parliamentary Agency, JO, http://www.jo.se/en/About-JO/The-Parliamentary-agency (last updated Feb. 4, 2014).

[8] 13:1 RF. Only actions committed while one is a Minister and not as an MP can be scrutinized by the KU. 1994/95:KU30 bilaga B16 s.309. However, government office staff may be scrutinized. 1 KARNOV SVENSK LAGSMALING MED KOMMENTAR, note 23 n.336 (Cecila Bergman et al. eds., 16th ed. 2016/17).

[9] A list of KU members is available on the Swedish Parliament website, at http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/utskotten-eu-namnden/konstitutionsutskottet/#ledamoter.

[10] 13:1 RF. The right to material from MPs was broadened in the 2010 amendments to the Constitution to include other documents that the Committee found necessary for its job. Prop. 2009/10:80 at 42, http://www.regeringen.se/49bb5e/contentassets/095135b9032c46afacf5e0a8a55389e1/en-reformerad-grundlag-prop.-20091080.

[11] 13:1 st 2 RF.

[12] Id. e contrario.

[13] 13:3 RF.

[14] Id.

[15] Johan Hirschfeldt, in KARNOV SVENSK LAGSMALING MED KOMMENTAR, supra note 8, comment 339, at 23–24.

[16] See Part II(C) of this report.

[17] 13:2 RF; see, for e.g., Press Release, Riksdagen, KU:s granskning av regeringen är klar (June 8, 2017), http://www. riksdagen.se/sv/aktuellt/2017/jun/8/kus-granskning-av-regeringen-ar-klar. In 2016, thirty-two complaints were made against Ministers. Konstitutionsutskottets betänkande 2016/17:KU20 Granskningsbetänkande [Committee on Constitution Report 2016/2017:KU20], http://www.riksdagen.se/sv/SysSiteAssets/01.-aktuellt/201617/ku20_pressuppl_8_juni.pdf.

[18] Konstitutionsutskottets betänkande 2016/17:KU20, supra note 17.

[19] Id.

[20] § Riksdagsordningen [RO] [Work Instructions for Parliament] (SFS 2014:801), https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/ dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/riksdagsordning-2014801_sfs-2014-801.

[21] 13:5 RF. Examples of interpellation debates—for example, a question posed by an MP to the Minister of Justice on the number of police officers in Sweden—can be found on the Parliament website, at http://www.riksdagen.se/ sv/webb-tv/video/interpellationsdebatt/fortsatt-sjunkande-antal-poliser-i-sverige-_H410552.

[22] 8:8 RO.  These are typically held on Thursdays; see Tilläggsbestammelse 8.8.1 RO.

[23] 8:7 RO, Tillägsbestammelse; 8.7.1. RO.

[24] 6:7 RF; 13:4 RF. Formally, the Speaker removes the Minister from his or her post following the no-confidence vote.

[25] 13:4 RF.

[26] Prime Minister Survives Vote of No Confidence, THE LOCAL (Jan. 20, 2015), https://www.thelocal.se/20150120/lofven-survives-vote-of-no-confidence-in-swedish-parliament.

[27] Kontrollerar regeringen, SVERIGES RIKSDAG, https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/sa-funkar-riksdagen/riksdagens- uppgifter/kontrollerar-regeringen (last reviewed Dec. 16, 2016).

[28] Reuters, Swedish Justice Minister Quits over Secret Palme Death Probe, LA TIMES (June 7, 1988), http://articles.latimes.com/1988-06-07/news/mn-4052_1_swedish-justice-minister.

[29] 13:6 RF.

[30] Internationellt samarbete, supra note 6; see also The Office Was Established in 1809, JO, http://www.jo.se/en/About-JO/History (last updated Sept. 18, 2013).

[31] 13:6 RF. There should be, in total, four ombudsmen—one chief ombudsman and three ordinary ombudsmen. 13:2 RO.

[32] 13:6 RF.

[33] 10 § Lag med instruktion för Riksdagens ombudsmän [Instructions for the Parliamentary Ombudsmen] (SFS 1986:765) (JO-instruktionen), https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattningssamling/lag-1986765-med-instruktion-for-riksdagens_sfs-1986-765, unofficial English translation available on the Parliamentary Ombudsmen website, at http://www.jo.se/en/About-JO/Legal-basis/Instructions.

[34] See Part II(A), above.

[35] 5 § JO-instruktionen.

[36]  Id. 17 §.