The principle of public access to official documents
In order to guarantee an open society with access to information about the work of the Riksdag (Swedish parliament), Government and government agencies, the principle of public access to official documents has been incorporated into one of the fundamental laws, the Freedom of the Press Act.
This openness gives the Swedish people the right to study public documents, a right which may be exercised when they so wish.
"To encourage the free exchange of opinion and availability of comprehensive information, every Swedish citizen shall be entitled to have free access to official documents." (Chapter 2, Article 1, Freedom of the Press Act)
Sweden has around 250 government authorities, the activities of which concern every citizen. The Government Offices is one such authority and consists of the Prime Ministers Office, the ministries and the Office for Administrative Affairs.
To guarantee an open society in which everyone has access to information about the work done by the Riksdag, the Government and other public bodies, the principle of the public access to official documents is provided for in the Freedom of the Press Act. This principle gives the general public the right to read official documents submitted to or drawn up by the authorites.
All documents received or dispatched letters, decisions and reports are in principle public documents and must be made available for anyone to read. Court sessions are public as are the meetings of decision-making assemblies.
Documents sent to an authority are registered. If you want to know which documents have been received by an authority or how a matter is being processed and by whom, you contact the authority. The Government Offices' public documents are available at the Government Offices archives.
The principle of public access to official documents also means that government officials and other central and local government employees are free to divulge information, that is to say they are entitled to say what they know concerning a matter to the media and other outsiders.
A transparent and accessible Government administration
The Government Offices seek transparency in dealings with the countrys citizens. Accessing official documents kept at the Government Offices should be a simple and straightforward process. Via the Government Offices archives, anyone can gain an insight into the work done by the Government Offices, and the Centre acts as a model for other public administrations with regard to the right of everyone to access official documents.
What is an official document?
- All documents contain information of some kind: text, images or information stored in some other format, for example, on a computer.
- A document is classified as official if it has been submitted to, was drawn up by or is in the keeping of a public authority.
- In principle all official documents are public and must be made available to anyone wishing to read them.
- Official documents may in certain cases be classified as secret if they contain information relating to the security of the realm, the personal or financial circumstances of individual citizens or crime prevention activities by public authorities.
Memoranda and draft decisions are not normally classified as official documents.
Which documents are not accessible to the general public?
There are certain exemptions from the principle of public access, but they are precisely exemptions. Access to public documents may be restricted if they protect the following interests:
- The security of the realm or its relations with another state or international organisation
- The central fiscal, monetary or currency policy of the Realm
- The inspection, control or other supervisory activities of a public authority
- The interest of preventing or prosecuting crime
- The economic interests of the public institutions
- The protection of the personal or economic circumstances of private subjects
- The preservation of animal or plant species
If information classified as secret is to be given or referred to in a court session, the court may generally hold the session behind closed doors. Furthermore, questioning of persons under the age of fifteen or of persons who suffer from a mental disorder may be held behind closed doors.