Land Reform and the Principle of Legal Certainty: The Practice of the Supreme Court of Estonia in 1918-1933

Author:Karin Visnapuu
Karin Visnapuu
Doctoral student
University of Tartu
Land Reform and the Principle
of Legal Certainty:
The Practice of the Supreme Court of Estonia
in 1918–1933*1
1. Introduction
Before gaining its independence on 24 February 1918, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. The legal
acts that were in force in Estonia before the gaining of independence were not democratic – for instance,
in the Russian Empire’s legal system, people were separated into categories on the basis of their class and
titles. Nonetheless, it would have been unrealistic to declare blanket annulment of all laws that were in
place prior to gaining of independence. Because of this practical factor, the Estonian legislator had to deal
with intensive legislative work not only in the rst years of independence but throughout it. In addition
to amending the laws valid under the Russian scheme or otherwise adapting them to the new democratic
state, it was necessary to create a foundation for this new modern state and society. The foundation had to
be created before particularities could be coherently tackled. That is why the most important task of this
newly created republic was to build and ensure the persistence of a democratic state based on the rule of
law. Accordingly, the number-one priority of the Estonian Constituent Assembly (the forerunner to the
Estonian Parliament, or Riigikogu) was to develop the Constitution of Estonia. However, in Article 7 of
the Estonian declaration of independence*2 it was stated that the Estonian Provisional Government had to
instantly develop a draft for a law designed to resolve the ‘land question’ (this is dealt with in greater detail
in Section 2 of the present article).
The rst Constitution of Estonia was adopted in 1920.*3 The principle of rule of law was not written
into it expressis verbis, but the elements of it were speci ed therein.*4 Also, contemporary legal literature
referred to Estonia as a state where the rule of law prevails.*5 Nowadays, the principle of legal certainty is an
obvious component of the rule of law. Legal clarity and legitimate expectation are the two main principles
The research for this article was supported by the Estonian Research Council (IUT-).
Manifest kõigile Eestimaa rahvastele. – RT , (in Estonian).
Eesti Vabariigi põhiseadus. – RT , / (in Estonian).
E.g., the principle of legality was set forth in §. Also the Constitution carried forth the idea of separation of powers.
‘Free Estonia is a legal state. At least it has a great will to be one,’ wrote F. Karlson. Õigusteaduse oskussõnad [‘Terms of
jurisprudence’]. – Õigus /, pp. (in Estonian), on p. . ‘The most positive moment of the Constitution of  is
that there was a great impact of lawyers in its development. All life in Estonia was based on law, and rule of law was created
with juridical rationalising of life,’ wrote E. Laaman. Isik ja riik Eesti põhiseadustes [‘Individual and state in the Constitu-
tions of Estonia’]. – Õigus /, pp.  (in Estonian), on p. .

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