Rule of law

Rule of law

The rule of law principle means that the activities of authorities must have support in the legal order, for instance in laws and ordinances. As a central government employee, you also have to be aware of and follow the rules that apply to the activities of your particular authority. Citizens have to be sure that government authorities follow the rules.

"Public power is exercised under the law" - Chapter 1, Article 1, third paragraph of the Instrument of Government

Government authorities must have support in rules for their activities

The most important aspect of the rule of law principle is that government authorities must have clear support in the legal order for the measures they take. This applies not only to the part of their activities that has to do with making decisions that affect private persons, but to all activities conducted by an authority.

Not only must an authority have support in the law for its decisions or measures, it must also be able to show what rule it has used in a specific case. This is important because private persons affected by authority decisions have to be able to predict and understand the outcome. Since 2018 the requirement for support in law is set out in the Administrative Procedure Act, which also states that there must be justification for a decision.

Some matters must be stipulated in laws

The rule of law principle’s requirement for support in rules also means stronger protection for our rights. Interventions in and restrictions of our constitutional rights and freedoms may only be made in laws and in certain specific circumstances. The Government cannot limit freedom of expression through an ordinance. Certain other rights cannot be restricted at all – for example torture or the death penalty are never permitted. Ordinances do not suffice for rules that are burdensome for private persons; they must have support in a law. For instance, an obligation for private parties to pay tax must be adopted by the Riksdag in a law.

You must be aware of the rules that apply for your activities. Private persons are affected by the measures and decisions of government authorities. Sometimes this involves the exercise of public authority, for example a decision that a private person has to pay a charge or may receive a financial contribution. Then it is important that everyone can rely on the authority applying the rules correctly. One important aspect of the rule of law is that, as a central government employee, you must be aware of and follow the rules that are relevant to your specific task and your authority’s activities. Here the picture is different in different parts of central government administration, and some activities and authorities have more – and more detailed – rules to follow.

In the light of their specific tasks, all authorities must also put internal rules in place in order to perform their tasks. Rules, procedures and policies of this kind must be relevant and appropriate to the authority’s activities. They should not be too detailed, and unnecessary duplication of regulations should be avoided.

For instance, an authority’s rules of procedure do not need to repeat what is stated in the Government Agencies Ordinance. The sets of rules must also be disseminated throughout the organisation, so that all employees who have to apply the rules understand what they mean.

You must know the principles for interpretation

The rules are not always clearly formulated, and it is not always obvious how you should interpret them. Sometimes, different rules can be seen as being incompatible and hard-to-solve conflicts may arise between them. Then there are a number of interpretative principles that provide guidance about solving such conflicts. To begin with the rules have a hierarchical structure. In brief, this structure means that fundamental laws take precedence over laws that then take precedence over ordinances. But there are also exceptions to the hierarchical structure. One example is that Section 4 of the Administrative Procedure Act states explicitly that provisions in other acts or in ordinances that differ from the wording of the Administrative Procedure Act, take precedence over that Act.

Another principle of interpretation is that rules in newer laws take precedence over those in older laws. Yet another principle says that more specific rules take precedence over those that are framed more generally.

As a central government employee, you must be acquainted with the fundamentals of these interpretative principles so as to be able to understand and interpret the rules that apply to your authority’s activities. This helps you to understand the relationship of the Instrument of Government, the Administrative Procedure Act and the fundamentals of a good administrative culture to one another as well as their relationship to other rules.