Historical Retrospect

​When the constitution came into effect in the Republic of Estonia in 1938, the institution of the Chancellor of Justice was established, using the experiences of Scandinavian countries as a blueprint. The institution was needed to check the legality of state acts and to offer legal advice to the President. The Chancellor of Justice was a higher level officer with the rights of a minister under the Office of the President. Back then, an overview of the activities of the institution was to be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies and the National Council (the two chambers of the National Assembly). On April 7th 1938, the President-Regent, by degree and in accordance with the constitution, passed a law governing the activities of the Chancellor of Justice.

​In 1938, Anton Palvadre, Chairman of the Administrative Department of the Supreme Court and Vice-Chairman of the parliament, became the first Estonian Chancellor of Justice. The office of the Chancellor of Justice was located in the same building as the President’s office, in Kadriorg. The staff was small: the Chancellor of Justice, two counselors (one of them a deputy), a secretary and a typist. In addition, trainees and supporting staff from the President’s office could be used. The activities of the Chancellor of Justice ended up being short-lived. The first report to the National Council, concluding one year and four months of work, was also the last for quite some time. The suggestions in the report for fixing the shortcomings in the law regarding the activities of the Chancellor of Justice unfortunately never became reality. After the USSR occupied Estonia on July 25th 1940, the office of the Chancellor of Justice was closed down.

During World War II, after German troops had retreated from Estonia, an attempt was made to restore independence. On September 18th 1944, Jüri Uluots, the Estonian prime minister prior to the occupation, formed the Government of the Republic of Estonia, which included Richard Övel as the Chancellor of Justice. Soviet national security forces arrested Övel early in 1945. He spent ten years in a concentration camp and died in 1958 in Estonia. The restoration of Estonian independence had failed; still it had been a signal of the nation’s aspiration for sovereignty.​

From 1949 to 1981, the Estonian government in exile named Artur Mägi as the Chancellor of Justice to maintain the continuity of the institution. Artur Mägi had also been one of the drafters of the Estonian constitution of 1938.​

​The constitution of 1992 recreated the institution of Chancellor of Justice in accordance with the principle of continuity. Restoration of the institution (with the constitution of 1938 as a blueprint) was a testament to its important role in Estonian nation-building and juridical culture.

The Chancellor of Justice, appointed by the Riigikogu, after a proposal from the President, to a term of office of seven years, is an official who is independent in his or her activities. He or she keeps an eye on the legislative acts of legislative, executive and local powers, to assure that they are in accordance with the constitution and existing laws. When the Chancellor of Justice finds that a legislative act is in conflict with the constitution or a law, he or she can suggest that the proposer of the act adjust it to the constitution and laws, and give the proposer at least 20 days to do so. If the proposer of the act ignores the proposition by the Chancellor of Justice, the latter can turn to the Constitutional Review Chamber of the Supreme Court and apply for cancellation of the act.

​After Estonia regained independence, the first Chancellor of Justice was Eerik-Juhan Truuväli. The institution was given an office and gradually the staff was pieced together. At the end of 1993, there were 16 employees, including eight advisers. In September of 2006, the number was 46, including 28 advisers.

The development of Estonian nationhood, with a better and better organization of the rule of law and democracy, raised the need for the institution of an ombudsman, so the protection of individuals’ constitutional rights and freedoms could be assured (the position of Chancellor of Justice is in existence in only three countries: Sweden, Finland and Estonia). In the society and among juridical scholars, there was a discussion of whether the ombudsman should be a new position, connected with the parliament, or tied to the position of the Chancellor of Justice. The law regarding the Chancellor of Justice, which came into effect on June 1st 1999, delegated the duties of the ombudsman to the Chancellor of Justice. With this, a constitutionally unique situation was established in Estonia. Such combined responsibility, where the functions of the ombudsman are connected to the office of the Chancellor of Justice, is unique in international law. For instance, when the Chancellor of Justice decides, through an ombudsman’s proceedings, that officials’ activities have violated the basic rights of some individuals, then the proceedings can bring to light that some legislative act is in conflict with laws or the constitution. Examining the constitutionality of legislative acts and the protection of the constitution simultaneously, the Chancellor of Justice can observe the fields as they are connected, using a united juridical approach.

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