Court procedure in Sweden is designed to encourage parties to settle their disputes at an early stage rather than to have the matter determined by the courts. In most cases, except those relating to family law, environmental law, water rights law and expropriation, the parties are to a large extent in control of the proceedings and can decide whether to continue or bring the proceedings to an end. The claimant’s claims and the defendant’s arguments against the claim determine the scope of the dispute.
In their assessment of the facts, the courts are not allowed to go beyond the boundaries fixed by the claim and the defendant’s response. However, the courts have the power to determine the timing of proceedings by setting time limits for the submission of briefs, statements of evidence etc. They also review whether the parties have exhausted all possibilities to reach an out-of-court settlement and to encourage settlement between the parties. The courts are therefore expected to take an active role in the possible settlement of a claim.
However, the courts can never force a party into a settlement, nor penalise a party for not accepting a settlement.
In general, Swedish courts are pragmatic in their handling of proceedings. They are also accustomed to dealing with international disputes. Although Swedish is the official court language, the courts usually have no problem in dealing with contracts and evidence in English.
2. Emergency Relief
Please see below under point 3 “Interim measures”.
Typically a case will take approximately 12 to 24 months before reaching the oral hearing, although there are measures available to the parties in order to bring the case to a much earlier conclusion, depending on the circumstances (see interim measures below). The court rules encourage the parties to disclose full details of their case before commencing proceedings and once proceedings are started the court’s timetable is fairly tight. These factors, among others, encourage parties to settle their disputes early.
All civil law claims are commenced by submitting a claim in one of the 62 district courts (Sw: tingsrätter) in Sweden. There are six Courts of Appeal (Sw: hovrätter) which hear appeals against judgments from the district courts, on both points of fact and of law. The Supreme Court (Sw: Högsta domstolen) is the highest of the general courts in Sweden. There are also a number of special courts e.g. the Market Court and the Labour Court.
There are rules to decide the proper legal venue but parties are generally free to choose the court in which they wish to bring their case. Also international disputes with little connection to Sweden may be brought before a Swedish court. Swedish courts will apply foreign law, if appropriate.
Parties can seek the assistance of the court on a variety of issues before any hearing. These include sequestration orders and injunctions. The Swedish Code of Judicial Procedures also offers the parties some means of interim measures to protect the interest of the parties until the case has finally been decided. Such measures include both attachment and injunction. A party can also make applications for summary judgment (where one party argues that the other has no real prospect of succeeding) and for default judgment (where one party applies to Court for judgment simply because the other party has failed to comply with Court procedure).
The specific case management powers of the Swedish courts are rather limited and mostly subordinated to the discretion and will of the parties. However, the law provides a number of means both for the courts and the parties to force the other party to make progress and comply with the orders and directions of the courts. Tactics to delay the procedure will thus often be reduced to a minimum.
In general each party is entitled to appeal against the ruling of the District Court to the Court of Appeal, unless the parties agree otherwise. However, in some types of cases, i.e. small claims cases (Sw: förenklade tvistemål), leave to appeal is required for a complete re-examination before the Court of Appeal. The possibilities of having a case examined by the Supreme Court are limited due to the fact that leave to appeal is required and normally only granted for the purpose of deciding undecided points of law. Leave may be restricted to a certain issue or part of a case. The aim of the provision of leave to appeal is to allow the Supreme Court to concentrate on its main task of acting as a court of precedent.
In Swedish proceedings, the parties have no obligation to disclose all relevant documents. In general, it is accepted that parties, although they are obviously not allowed to lie or commit fraud, have no obligation to mention facts or evidence if it is not in their interest to do so. Each party is free to assert in court only those matters which advance its case. However, a party may, at the request of another party, be ordered by the court to disclose certain written information if the other party has no other access to the information and certain other criteria for such a request are fulfilled. The courts will not allow so-called "fishing expeditions".
It is each party’s responsibility to produce all evidence needed to prove their case. The parties must state what evidence they rely upon and what elements of their case the evidence supports. The courts normally allow all evidence to be submitted and will only refuse it if it serves merely to prove something that is obvious or irrelevant to the case, if it will clearly have no effect on the case, or if it can be produced at a considerably lower cost or effort. However, the courts are reluctant to dismiss evidence.
The parties are free to bring in any evidence they see fit subject to the request for dismissal by the other party if the evidence lacks relevance. However, communications between lawyers regarding settlement proposals and negotiations are considered privileged and cannot be used as evidence in court. This enables and encourages parties to make further attempts to come to an amicable settlement without having to change their position in court.
6. Enforcement of Judgments
A Swedish judgment can be registered and enforced within the European Union and EEA countries as if it were a judgment of the courts of those countries. In addition, there are reciprocal arrangements between Sweden and some other jurisdictions around the world, which allow for the registration and enforcement of a Swedish judgment in those jurisdictions.
Swedish judgments can be enforced relatively quickly through the Enforcement Authorities (Sw: Kronofogdemyndigheter) at a cost of between 500 and 1000 SEK. The enforcement shall be based on an Enforcement Order (Sw: exekutionstitel), i.e. a document in which the obligation is legally determined. Performance judgments (Sw: fullgörelsedomar) but not declaratory judgments (Sw: fastställelsedomar) are valid as enforcement orders.
The main rule relating to costs in legal proceedings in Sweden is that the costs follow the event (i.e. the losing party pays the winning party’s costs). There are, however, a number of complicated rules according to which costs can be apportioned in the event that a party is considered to have lost parts of its case, but succeeded in others.
There are no court fees in Sweden apart from a registration fee of 450 SEK; instead the costs of the proceedings consist of the parties’ actual and reasonable costs necessary for bringing the legal action or defence, i.e. costs for legal representation, possible consultancy fees, costs for the presentation of evidence and compensation for the party’s own work and loss of time. Such costs can be substantial. However, in small claim cases, each party bears its own costs.
8. Arbitration and ADR
Arbitration has a long tradition in Sweden and is a generally accepted means of resolving disputes, particularly in the commercial field. Very often commercial contracts include an arbitration clause, and such clauses are also common in standard form contracts. Sweden is also a popular place for international arbitrations, due to the work of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, which is the centre for institutional arbitration in Sweden and which has its own set of rules. The Arbitration Act (1999:116) fully recognises the autonomy of the arbitral process and since most of its provisions are non-mandatory and very general, the parties and arbitrators can freely elect the procedures and rules that they deem fit. The Act also governs how national and international arbitration awards can be executed in Sweden, which is a party to the 1958 New York Convention.
ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)
ADR has not yet developed into a commonly recognised and/or institutionalised form of resolving disputes in Sweden except in some areas such as labour law, family law matters and consumer disputes.
The most common form of ADR is the informal activity of lawyers without formal training but based on experience to settle cases amicably out of court before commencing formal litigation. In addition, the Code of Judicial Procedure offers the possibility for the parties to agree to ask the court to appoint a mediator. The courts sometimes suggest this in complicated cases. The costs of such a mediator are then shared by the parties and the proceedings are based on the free will of the parties and can be terminated at their request. Experiences with court mediators are mixed.
The Stockholm Chamber of Commerce has also formed a Mediation Institute with its own set of rules and model clauses.
Written by Ulf Mellqvist, Bodil Ehlers and Hanna Larsson in our Stockholm office.
Important - The information in this article is provided subject to the disclaimer. The law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly.