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The history of Russian prosecutor’s office illustrated in the Presidential Library’s digital collections

12 January 2019

January 12, 2019 marks the 297th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian prosecutor’s office by Peter I. The Presidential Library’s portal features unique materials on the history of the department.

Perhaps there was no sphere in the public and political life of the country, which would not be affected by the reform of the emperor-reformer. The judicial system, which by the time Peter entered the Russian throne, was pretty outdated.. P. I. Ivanov writes about this in the rare book “The Experience of the Biographies of Prosecutor-General and Ministers of Justice” (1863), a digital copy of which is available on the Presidential Library’s portal: “Peter also took care of vigilant supervision over the procedure and justice of the cases that were carried out. Before him, we had no control in this regard. The accountability of previous places was vague and concerned almost only the financial side”.

As a result, on January 12, 1722, the Russian autocrat issued the Highest Decree to the Governing Senate, which states the following: “The Prosecutor General and the Procurator General must be under the Senate, as well as in any Board of Prosecutors who must report to the Prosecutor General”. The full text of the document is available in Volume 40 of the Complete Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire (1825–1881).

Following this decree, Peter I appoints the first prosecutor general — Count Pavel Ivanovich Yaguzhinsky. Presenting him to the senators, the sovereign said: “This is my eye, and I will see everything. He knows my intentions and desires that he will please, then you do; and at least it seemed to you that he is acting contrary to My and state benefits, you, however, do it and, having notified Me of this, expect My commandment”. A copy of the Instruction on the position of the Prosecutor General of the Senate (1722), written by Peter the Great, is presented on the Presidential Library’s portal.

According to the famous professor of law and publicist Alexander Gradovsky, the establishment of the post of procurator-general was of great importance. You can read about this in detail in the first volume of his Collected Works (1899–1904): “I began to search between the mass of institutions for the kind that characterized the entire system of the administration of that time, and involuntarily settled on the curious institution of the procurators-general. The great importance of this position for the entire administration of the 18th century, its connection with the most important institutions of this era, and especially with the governing senate, and the trust of our best monarchs in them, explains this choice sufficiently. The positions of this were destined to play a huge, one might say, primary role in the administration of the 18th century. Every part of the state mechanism felt its irresistible influence”.

The role was really huge like the field of activity of prosecutors. This is stated in the notes of Prince Yakov Shakhovsky (1872), who served in this position under Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna: “Many harmful circumstances are before everyone’s eyes: the continuation of the courts, in many places of ruin, through the measure of wealthy judges, endlessly, the kidnapping of our interest from those who are determined to preserve, stealing from the sale of salt, from recruitment, and from every tax on the people, in the needs of the state, are all undeniable proofs that reveal the means to prevent harm to the general public”.

It is worth noting that in society, prosecutors-general had a very significant place. They were considered almost the second person after the sovereign, and each sought to make friendship with them. Even poems were written in their honor! For example, Prince Procopius Meschersky dedicated his lines to Petr Obolyaninov, Prosecutor General under Paul I:

Светильник истинны, сияющий близ трона,

Монархом избранный в хранителя закона!

Ты вверенный Тебе к Престолу путь храня,

Невинных шествие по Нем успособляешь;

Стремлениям страстей надеждой не маня,

Ты тщательно от зла благое отделяешь;

Деятельностию тот выбор оправдал,

Явяся точно тем, чего и ожидал

Всегда в Тебе иметь монарх правдолюбивый. 

... This is only the beginning of the rich history of the Russian prosecutor's office, its formation and development as an institution of power. The Presidential Library’s digital collections, in addition to the old editions devoted to this topic, contains also modern studies and research papers. Among them are the “Prosecutor’s Office and Prosecutor’s Supervision” by R. Matushevsky, “The Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation in the Mechanism of Protection of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen” by A. Uryvaev, “The Prosecutor’s Office in the System of National Security of Russia” by O. Kapinus and others.