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Sweden: Groundbreaking Supreme Court Award for Unlawful Loss of Citizenship

(Apr. 30, 2014) On April 23, 2014, the Swedish Supreme Court rendered a groundbreaking verdict against the state, requiring it to pay SEK100,000 (about US$15,224) in damages to an individual who had been stripped of his Swedish citizenship in violation of the Constitution. (Högsta Domstolen [HD] [Supreme Court] 2014-04-23 T 5516-12, Högsta Domstolen website.)

In 1984, Blake Pettersson was born in the United States to an English woman married to a Swedish man; this situation gave Pettersson the right to Swedish citizenship under the citizenship act then in force (Lag om Svenskt medborgarskap [Citizenship Act] (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 1950:382, NOTISUM.)   After he arrived in Sweden and gained Swedish citizenship, it was revealed that the Swedish man was in fact not the biological father and that the biological father did not have Swedish citizenship. The Tax Authority therefore changed the nationality of Pettersson in their records. He was then 17. Peterrsson regained citizenship four and a half years later, based on a court order issued by the Administrative Supreme Court. (Id. at 3.)

As an effect of losing his citizenship, Pettersson lost the opportunity to participate in one national election and one referendum on the euro, as well as any chance of becoming a police officer or participating in military service. (Id. at 4.)

Under the Swedish Constitution, a person “who is or has been living in Sweden may not be stripped of his citizenship.” (Regeringsformen [RF] [Constitution], SFS 1974:152, ch. 2, art. 7.)
The Constitution, Sveriges Riksdag [Swedish Parliament] website (last updated Nov. 21, 2011) [click on The Instrument of Government].) The Constitution does not distinguish between citizenships that were obtained correctly or those obtained through error.

The Supreme Court decision is groundbreaking, as there is no formal right to damages in the Constitution, a circumstance that did not go unnoticed by the dissenting justice. She generally agreed with the majority on their reasoning but could not, according to her own reasoning, find any legal principle in the Constitution under which to render damages. The Swedish Constitution does not include a provision on right to damages, she wrote, and Sweden has previously not recognized a principle of law that entitles victims to damages for pain and suffering without direct support in law. The dissenting justice goes on in her dissent to ask the legislative body to amend Swedish legislation to provide for a legal right to damages in similar cases. (Högsta Domstolen, supra at 8.)

With this decision by the Supreme Court, the Swedish Constitution goes from “paper tiger to a guard-dog for the individual’s [constitutional rights],” says Clarence Craaford, the Director of Centrum för rättvisa, the organization that represented Pettersson. (Vinst i Högsta Domstolen [Win in Supreme Court], CENTRUM FÖR RÄTTVISA (Apr. 23, 2014).)

Prepared by Elin Hofverberg, Foreign Law Research Consultant, under the supervision of Edith Palmer, Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Division II.