Olof Palme about judicial review in Sweden 1975/76

This is a quote from the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, from a debate in parliament in 1975/76:

“The conservatives and the people’s party want to give the courts a political role. That is foreign to our system. We do not want judges and civil servants to be the wardens of the people’s elected representatives. The people has a right to decide in its own house. There is an old popular tradition in this area that is very strong. In this matter of principle we and the centre party have the same view. I think that this honours the centre party. It is rather typical that the two parties that have a deeper and more immediate connection with the popular movements have this attitude. It is not, so to speak, a civil servant and court Sweden that we want. It was against this that the popular movements – both the labor movement and the peasant movement – once upon a time rebelled.”

What this illustrates is that the social democratic party in Sweden and the centre party have been against independet courts that can check decisions by parliament.

It also illustrates a rethoric about the courts as representatives of an older conservative oligarchy, rather than as independent upholders of the law.

The irony of this is that by rejecting judicial review, Olof Palme and the centre party defended the principles of the old oligarchic system. In this regard the argument is facetious. The reason that Olof Palme rejected judicial review was that he wanted a state where politicians and civil servants continued to be unassailable and the courts continued to support the powers that be.

In terms of political culture this illustrates two things. Both that the Swedish tradition has been oligarchic and the courts political, and that this aspect of political culture continued – at least until the 1970s – despite the advent of mass democracy in the 1920s.

Footnote: Judicial review developed in practice in Sweden between the 1930s and 1960s, but was very limited. It was regulated for the first time in the Swedish instrument of government in 1979. However, it was then curtailed to the point of becoming inconsequential. In 2011 it was strengthened, but the results of this new regulation is unclear; because the wording is unclear, because the change is recent and because tradition is expected to be strong.

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