Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of April 18, 1999 (status as of March 11, 2012)

Year of Version:2012
Date of Entry into Force:January 1, 2000
Date of Text (Adopted):April 18, 1999
Type of Text:Constitution / Basic Law
Subject Matter:Other
The Constitution is the supreme law of Switzerland. The first Constitution, which was adopted on September 12, 1848 established Switzerland as a federal State. It introduced the principle of subsidiarity, according to which the cantons are sovereign insofar as their sovereignty is not expressly limited by the Constitution. On May 29, 1874 the second Constitution of Switzerland was adopted following the total revision of the first Constitution of 1848. It is with this second Constitution that the federal competences were reinforced and that the referendum procedure was introduced at the federal level. On April 18, 1999 the third Constitution was adopted by popular vote and entered into force on January 1, 2000. The Constitution of 1999 is a reorganization of the previous Constitutions of 1848 and 1874. It codified the fundamental rights that were earlier only mentioned in the jurisprudence and the doctrine. The Constitution of 1999 was last amended on March 11, 2012 and this version consolidates all amendments up to this date.
The Constitution defines Switzerland as a multi-party federal parliamentary democratic State. It specifies the powers and duties of the three branches of Government. The legislative powers are exercised by the two chambers of the Federal Assembly: the Council of States and the National Council. The executive powers are entrusted to the Federal Council. The judicial powers are attributed to the cantonal and federal tribunals. At the cantonal level, there are tribunals of first instance, administrative tribunals and cantonal tribunals that will hear appeals. At the federal level, there is a federal criminal tribunal, a federal administrative tribunal and the Federal Supreme Court.
The Constitution also organizes the functioning of the State vis-à-vis the cantons. Switzerland is composed of 26 cantons, which have their own constitution and are independent to decide on matters attributed to them by the Federal Constitution. These matters usually include fiscal rights, criminal procedures, health care and education.
According to the principle of subsidiarity, the cantons have a lot of freedom in the decision making process and can decide on any matter in the legal hierarchy that is not specifically attributed to the Federal government (Article 3). If there is a conflict between the legislation of a canton and the federal law, the latter will have primacy over the former (Article 49). The population can also have recourse to referendum procedures. As it was established in 1874, the referendum procedure allows the population to challenge a decision of the Federal government. A referendum can be requested counter federal actions, bring some amendments to the Constitution or to specify the application of conventions (Articles 136, 140 and 141). Once the draft legislations or amendments are published in the Federal Gazette, a delay of 100 days starts running for the collection of 50,000 signatures necessary to launch a referendum. Depending on the outcome of the reference the law might or might not be accepted. Any change must however respect Switzerland international obligations. When the new legislation or amendment enters into force, its text will be added to the Systematic Collection of Swiss Law (Recueil systématique du droit fédéral - RS).

The Swiss legal system belongs to the civil law tradition, under which its core principles are codified into codes that serves as the primary source of law. There are three types of texts in Switzerland: the laws, the regulations and the ordinances. The ordinances may be administrative or legislative. If an ordinance is administrative in nature, it will have the same properties than a regulation. However, the legislative ordinance is divided into two categories: the substitution ordinance (which has the same effect as a law) or the enforcement ordinance (which has the same effect as a regulation).
The Constitution does not contain provisions on intellectual property. However, Article 26 guarantees the right to property ownership, which stipulates that: “The right to own property is guaranteed. The compulsory purchase of property and any restriction on ownership that is equivalent to compulsory purchase shall be compensated in full.'

Source: Swiss Federal Office of Justice, the Federal Assembly - The Swiss Parliament
Available Texts: 

Constitution fédérale de la Confédération suisse du 18 avril 1999 (état le 11 mars 2012) Constitution fédérale de la Confédération suisse du 18 avril 1999 (état le 11 mars 2012), Complete document (pdf) [342 KB]


Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft vom 18. April 1999 (stand am 11. März 2012) Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft vom 18. April 1999 (stand am 11. März 2012), Complete document (pdf) [330 KB]


Costituzione federale della Confederazione Svizzera del 18 aprile 1999 (stato 11 marzo 2012) Costituzione federale della Confederazione Svizzera del 18 aprile 1999 (stato 11 marzo 2012), Complete document (pdf) [328 KB]

Related Legislation:
WIPO Lex No.:CH262