Hierarchy of legal rules

Hierarchy of legal rules

There are a number of different kinds of legal rules. Collective names for them are statutes or regulations.

There are four constitutional, or fundamental laws in Sweden: the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act, the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression and the Act of Succession. They are decided by the Riksdag. To pass a new fundamental law or adopt amendments or additions, the Riksdag must vote in the same way on two occasions and between these votes there must be an election to the Riksdag. This is to make sure that amending constitutional law is not a simple matter.

Laws, or acts, are adopted by the Riksdag, but here one vote is enough. A law is usually preceded by a government-appointed inquiry and then the Government presents a proposal in the form of a bill to the Riksdag. What is said in these documents, the legislative history, can help us to interpret the law, but, first and foremost, the text of the law is the most important source. Some matters must be stipulated in laws. This applies, for example, to rules about taxes or criminal offences and penalties.

An ordinance is decided by the Government. Generally an authorisation is required, i.e. there has to be a law that says that the Government may issue detailed regulations. The Government also has some scope to adopt its own rules without an authorisation. One example is the Government Agencies Ordinance (2007:515), in which the Government decides matters including how administrative authorities should generally be organised. Ordinances containing instruction for authorities regulate each authority’s main tasks and organisation.

Authorities can also be given the right to issue regulations, which means that they can be authorised to write rules filling out laws or ordinances. They are often about specific details of the regulatory system, for example the Swedish Social Insurance Agency regulations on payments to participants in labour market policy measures (FKFS 2017:06) or the Swedish Tax Agency’s Regulations on the income tax return e-service (SKVFS 2006:1).

General advice: General advice is also issued by authorities. These documents are guiding recommendations rather than formal rules that must be followed.