Land Reform and the Principle of Legal Certainty: The Practice of the Supreme Court of Estonia in 1918–1933
In the early years of the 20th century, the land-ownership and societal structure in many Eastern and some Central European countries displayed remnants of feudalism. Land distribution was dominated by large estates (manors) owned by feudal lords. Since this relic from the age of serfdom was not in line with modern values at all, land reforms were carried out in these countries after World War I. Estonia was no exception: once it gained its independence on 24 February 1918, the main task was to build a modern democratic state that was in accordance with the principle of rule of law. However, the process of land reform itself became a legal challenge to this principle.
Today, legal certainty is an important part of the principle of rule of law. Even though legal certainty was not written expressis verbis in contemporary legal acts, it was still considered to be an important principle and it was necessary to follow it. The sterling basis of the land reform was considered to be the Land Law act but the act itself had many drawbacks, which were not resolved even with the respective implementation acts. For this reason, the main task of the Estonian courts became interpretation of the legal norms and forming of the substance of Estonian land reform with their practice.
The paper describes how precisely land reform became a challenge to the principle of rule of law in the example of legal certainty, identifies the main problems found in the legislation of Estonian land reform, and articulates how the Estonian Supreme Court solved thus problems.