Legislation

Legislation. The action of making laws, ordinances, or edicts that carry authority in a given society by virtue of their promulgation by an individual or body invested with legislative power. The Ukrainian word for law (zakon) dates back to the Princely era and also refers to customary norms. Under the influence of Byzantine legal practice (see Byzantine law), the term became restricted to normative acts issued by the prince, usually in written form. Other terms for law used in the medieval period were pokon, pravo, ustav, and urok. Initially, legislative power belonged to the monarch, who sometimes shared it with representatives of the higher estates. In modern times it belongs, as a rule, to popular bodies, such as parliaments, representing a wider constituency.

In medieval Kyivan Rus’ legislative power was shared by the prince, viche, and Boyar Council, but the distribution of power among them varied with principality and time. Bishops and hegumens made laws governing church affairs and affecting church people. Congresses of princes were voluntary and irregular; hence, they lacked legislative authority. Mikhail Vladimirsky-Budanov has argued that such congresses had the right to issue laws for a given territory; eg, a part of the Ruskaia Pravda was adopted at the Vyshhorod congress of Yaroslav the Wise's sons (1072).

During the Lithuanian-Ruthenian period, the grand duke enjoyed legislative authority in the Vilnius principality, and the appanage princes made law in their own realms. From the 15th century the grand duke began to legislate for the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania, sharing his power with the Council of Lords and the Great Diet. The most important laws of this period were set forth in the land charters, the sudebniki, and the Lithuanian Statute.

In the Hetman state, legislative authority was held by the hetman, who usually consulted the Cossack starshyna and obtained their approval. Sometimes the General Military Council also issued laws. As Ukraine's autonomy declined in the 18th century, legislative power passed to the Russian tsar, who exercised it partly through the Little Russian Collegium. At the Zaporozhian Sich the Sich Council and the council of officers made law. As in the previous period, no clear divisions of power existed among various branches of government. Sometimes they co-operated in implementing the law, and sometimes they competed.

In the Russian Empire the tsar was the only legislative authority until 1905, although he consulted with the State Council and the Committee of Ministers. After 1905 he shared this power with the State Duma. In the Austro-Hungarian Empire, law-making was the emperor's exclusive right until 1867. Then, under the constitutional monarchy and Assembly of Deputies (Abgeordnetenhaus), laws were passed by the State Council (Reichsrat). In the interwar period, legislation for Ukrainian territories under Polish, Romanian, and Czechoslovak rule was passed by the respective national parliaments and state presidents. Only the Diet of Carpatho-Ukraine within Czechoslovakia was to have enjoyed the power to make law for the autonomous territory.

During the period of Ukrainian statehood in 1917–20, various bodies under different regimes exercised legislative power. On 8 December 1917 the Central Rada passed a law reserving for itself ‘the exclusive and indivisible right to make law for the Ukrainian National Republic,’ and it exercised this power through its executive committee, the Little Rada. The Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic, adopted on 29 April 1918, endowed the National Assembly with supreme legislative power and gave the right to propose legislation to its presidium, the Council of National Ministers of the Ukrainian National Republic, groups of deputies, local governments, and citizens themselves (submitting petitions with 100,000 signatures). Under the Hetman government, laws were drafted by the various ministries and passed by the Council of National Ministers, but acquired force only after being ratified by the hetman. This system of legislation was to function only until parliament was convened. The Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic, as a revolutionary organ, claimed all the powers of government, including the legislative power which it exercised with the Council of Ministers. The Labor Congress (1919) transferred its legislative power to the Directory until the next session, which could not be held because of the Bolshevik victory in Ukraine. According to the Law on the Temporary Supreme Government and the Legislative System of the Ukrainian National Republic (12 November 1920), legislative authority in the UNR was to belong to the State People's Council, and the president of the Directory was merely to ratify laws. The Government-in-exile of the Ukrainian National Republic, however, left the legislative power with the Council of National Ministers and the president of the Directory.

In the Western Ukrainian National Republic (ZUNR), legislative authority was held by the Ukrainian National Rada, which transferred it on 9 June 1919 to the Dictatorship of the Western Province of the Ukrainian National Republic.

In Soviet Ukraine, legislative power was vested formally in the All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets and the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee (VUTsVK) by the first constitution of the Ukrainian SSR (14 March 1919). In practice, however, it was usually the Presidium of the VUTsVK and the Council of People's Commissars that exercised this power. The constitution of January 1937 created the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR as Ukraine's highest and only legislative body, and its status was confirmed by the constitution of 1978. In practice, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet took over most of its legislative functions: it issued general normative acts called ukazy, which differed from formal laws only in name, and these were later ratified as laws by the Soviet. Fundamental areas of the law in Ukraine came under the power of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in Moscow. All laws passed by the USSR Supreme Soviet were valid on Ukrainian territory. In the case of conflict between Ukrainian and USSR law, the latter prevailed. The declaration of sovereignty (16 July 1990) placed Ukrainian law above the law of the USSR in the Ukrainian SSR.

During periods of revolutionary change, new regimes generally abolish old legislation in whole or in part. The Central Rada retained the basic legislation of the Provisional Government and even of the tsarist regime (especially civil law, criminal law, and trade legislation). Only some of the legislation was explicitly replaced by new laws. The Hetman government retained even more of the old legislation, including much of the administrative law, but discarded the political and social legislation of the Central Rada. The Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic, in turn, overturned the hetman's legislation. In the Western Ukrainian National Republic, almost all of the Austrian laws remained in force. The Soviet regime abolished the legislation of all former governments in Ukraine and, through a series of decrees, introduced Soviet Russian laws in Ukraine.

In most modern states, laws come into force when they are published in official gazettes. For gazettes published by Ukrainian governments, see Legal press.

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]




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