Swedish Judicial Jurisdictions for Family History Research

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Why Judicial Jurisdictions?[edit | edit source]

There are many reasons why you might want to search the Swedish court records for information about your ancestors. The courts were responsible for the processing of criminal and civil cases, but also for the recording of property transactions, the division of estates (probates and wills), and even death lists that were sent in by the parishes. Plus there is often a wealth of supporting documents for the cases. It is generally believed that most of the population can be found in the court records for one reason or another. But to search the court records, you have to know what judicial jurisdiction that your ancestor lived in. This article will help you identify the right court jurisdiction level and the associated records for your search. First let's look at how the judicial jurisdictions were formed.

Medieval - Mid 1600's[edit | edit source]

The oldest judicial jurisdiction in Sweden is the härad which predates written history, although some parts of the country use the name tingslag, bergslag, or skeppslag instead. Either way, each härad or "-slag" had a outdoor place of judgement (a tingplats) to process criminal offenses and civil disputes. Before 1523 there was no official kingdom of Sweden in the modern sense. It was a group of provinces (the Landskap), controlled to a large extant by families with strong political and military ties (Folkungar families) with an elected king to represent the groups in general. To strengthen the government’s position, cities were formed and were given special rights, including the establishment of city courts.

The häradsrätt (in rural areas) and the rådhusrätt (in the cities) were the first and most common level of jurisdiction to settle criminal offenses and civil disputes. If someone wanted to appeal a lower court’s decision, they had to appeal to the Monarchy and Council of the Realm before 1614, or to the Higher court (Hovrätt) after 1614. In 1634 the kingdom of Sweden was organized into counties (Län) and the judicial authority was tranfered from each province to the respective county authorities. 

Mid 1600's - early 1900's
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The chart below represents the organizational structure of the judicial system from the mid 1600’s up to the beginning of the 1900’s. See the table below the chart for English definitions and links for information about the records associated to each jurisdiction.

Swedish Judicial Jurisdictions 1600s to 1900.jpg
Administration Levels Definition
Kunglig Majestät i Riksrådet The Council of the Realm and the Monarchy up to 1789
Högsta domstolen The Supreme Court after 1789
Nedre justitierevisionen Before cases could be presented to a higher court, the case and its documents had to be evaluated and prepared. This office accomplished that.
Hovrätter High Regional Appellate Courts beginning in 1614. There are six Hovrätter:

1. Svea hovrätt in Stockholm, founded in 1614 with Svealand and Norrland as its area of jurisdiction. Its archive is kept at the National Archives (Riksarkivet).
2. Göta hovrätt in Jönköping, founded in 1643 by division of Svea hovrätt with Götaland as its area of jurisdiction. Keeps its own archive.
3. Hovrätten over Skåne och Blekinge with Malmö, founded in 1820 by division of Göta hovrätt with the provinces of Skåne and Blekinge as its area of jurisdiction. Its archive is kept at Lunds landsarkiv.
4. Hovrätten for Övre Nordland in Umeå, founded in 1936 by division of Svea hovrätt with the counties of Norrrbotten and Västernorrland as its area of jurisdiction. Keeps its own archive.
5. Hovrätten for Nedre Norrland in Sundsvall, founded in 1948 by division of Svea hovrätt with the counties of Jämtland and Västernorrland as its area of jurisdiction. Keeps its own archive.
6. Hovrätten for Västra Sverige in Göteborg, founded in 1948 by division of Göta hovrätten with the counties of Göteborg och Bohus, Halland, Älvsborg as its area of jurisdiction. Keeps its own archive.

Rådhusrätter and magistrater City courts and Magistrates
Kämnärsrätter The cities had a special lower court called kämnarsrätt that were founded in 1619 to handle all “small and minor cases”. The kämnarsrätt was abolished in 1849 when its cases were transferred to the rådhusrätt.
Lagmansrätter A court jurisdiction dating back to the medieval “lagsaga”, generally for an entire Landskap. After 1614 it became a first appellate court for civil and minor criminal cases. Serious criminal cases were appealed directly to the Hovrätt. Eventually most cases bypassed the lagmansrätt and the court jurisdiction was disbanded in 1849.
Häradsrätter The häradsrätt was the first level of court for civil and criminal cases from medieval times up to 1970 when it was replaced by the tingsrätter. The area the jurisdiction covered was called a tingslag. The courts head was the häradshövding, who could also be over a domsaga (multiple härads.) The häradsrätten included twelve men called nämndemän, or tolvmän. The häradsrätt was also responsible to oversee taxation.

Härads- and rådhusrätten changed names in 1971 and are now called tingsrätt. There are about 100 tingsrätter in Sweden today. The archives of these courts are located at respective landsarkiv, except for the latest records which are found at respective tingsrätt.

Records[edit | edit source]

Tips[edit | edit source]

  • Most cases appeared on three levels: district and city courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court.
  • The district court (häradsrätten) in the countryside and the city court (rådstufvurätten or rådhusrätten) in the city were the lowest instance. It was in these courts that most of the cases originated. The cities also had a special court called kämnarsrätten betweeb 1619 and 1849.

References[edit | edit source]

Asker, Björn, Hur riket styrdes, Förvaltning , politik och arkiv 1520 – 1920, Edita, Stockholm 2007   (further reading chapter 7. Domstolarna och fångvården)

Clemmensson, Per & Kjell Andersson. Släktforska vidare. Natur och Kultur/LTs förlag, Falköping 2003