On 23 November 2022, the Riksdag, Sweden’s national legislature, approved changes to the Constitution that will allow the prime minister and members of the cabinet to electronically sign decrees and other cabinet decisions.
The changes to the Constitution, which will take effect on 1 January 2023, address Chapter 7, Section 7 of the Instrument of Government (the legal framework defining the role of the executive branch), which states: “Statutes, proposals to the Riksdag, and other Government decisions to be dispatched are only valid when signed by the Prime Minister or another minister on behalf of the Government.”.
The amended constitution allows for a technology-neutral method for signing decrees, which includes ink-on-paper, electronic signature and the adoption of any future technology, provided that high security requirements are met.
Today’s Riksdag vote marks the final step of a process that began in May 2020, when the government assigned a special investigator to examine whether or not electronic signatures on government decisions are compatible with existing requirements and, if necessary, to propose changes that would make the requirement technology-neutral.
Although Chapter 7, Section 7 did not expressly reject the validity of cabinet decisions signed electronically, most legal experts had interpreted it as a wet ink requirement. While some legal bodies, such as the Law Faculty at Uppsala University, disagreed with this interpretation, the executive branch did not want to take the risk of e-signing decisions under legal uncertainty.
“Since the late 20th century, the e-signing of contracts and other agreements has become increasingly common, and laws have been put in place to ensure its legal acceptance”, says Mathias Bjerkhaug, Scrive Legal Counsel. “Today, as e-signing becomes more and more the norm for businesses, public institutions and non-profit organisations, there are very few examples of documents that still must be signed on paper.”
The Government’s investigation arrived at the assessment that the Constitution in its then-current form did in fact require cabinet decisions to be signed with pen on paper in order to be effective. As a result, in March 2021, the Government released its official report suggesting a change to the Constitution.
In October 2021, the executive branch proposed these changes to the Riksdag, and in April 2022, the Riksdag voted on and approved them. According to Swedish law, any change to the Constitution must be approved by the Riksdag twice, once before and once after elections at the national level. So once the general election was held in September 2022, the Riksdag was able to pass the second and final approval. Bjerkhaug notes that “the fact that this constitutional change passed without a single objection from any of the 349 members of the Riksdag shows how trusted and accepted e-signing has become in Sweden.”
The changed Constitution marks another important step for Sweden towards a more efficient way of conducting government business while maintaining a high level of security. This move follows the recent adoption by Sweden’s district courts of a new digital system for drafting and signing judgments in criminal cases.
In Sweden, the signing of real estate purchasing contracts is one of the only types of agreements that still must be signed on paper. “But when the Swedish Prime Minister starts e-signing decrees in 2023”, Bjerkhaug points out, “it’s reasonable to expect that these few exceptions will disappear soon.”To learn more about the legal basis for e-signing, watch this short video series in which Scrive’s guest legal scholar explains how e-signing already satisfies the signing requirements for almost all types of documents.