Polish law

Polish law. From the 15th century to the partitions of Poland, and in the interwar period of the 20th century, Ukrainian territories under Polish rule were governed by Polish law. The law was introduced in the 1430s in Rus’ voivodeship and Podilia voivodeship and parts of Bratslav voivodeship, and from 1501 in the Kholm region. It was used along with older laws, such as Rus’ law, Armenian law, Wallachian law, and Germanic law. The Jewish community, meanwhile, had its own system. The sources for Polish law were primarily customary law and, later, written statutes. There were many attempts to codify the law, but the first comprehensive effort was made by Casimir III the Great. His Wiślica Statute of 1347 was translated partly into Ukrainian and was used mostly in Western Ukraine. A second, superior code, called the Łaski Statute, was ratified by the Sejm in 1506. In 1522 the Sejm decided to have all customary laws codified, but this project was later reduced to codifying only private, criminal, and procedural law. A special commission prepared the so-called Correctura irium, but the Sejm rejected it (1534). The Constitution of 1791 reformed political law and provided for the publication of a new legal code, but this was not carried out because of the partitioning of Poland. Thus, Poland had been governed only by statutes and, apart from procedural law, lacked any legal codes. Various territories had their own provincial statutes, which they defended jealously.

The fundamental characteristics of Polish law were reliance on custom, unevenness, particularism, and insufficient codification. The guiding legislative principle was the protection of the privileges of the nobility and the interests of the state and the church; the Catholic hierarchy was particularly influential. Until the 16th century the legal system was distinctively Polish, with few borrowings from foreign sources. Then, many elements of Roman law were adopted. It was only at the end of the 18th century that some modern ideas from Western Europe were imported into Polish law.

After the partitions of Poland, Polish law was replaced by Austrian and Prussian law, the Napoleonic Code in the Kingdom of Poland, and the Lithuanian Statute, which was more sophisticated than any of the Polish projects. The statute remained in force in Right-Bank Ukraine until 1840, when it was replaced by Russian law.

During the Polish occupation of Western Ukraine in 1919–39, the former Austrian and Russian laws were gradually replaced by new Polish laws: the constitutions of 1921 and 1935, the law on the justice system (1928), the law on criminal and civil procedure (1930), a criminal code (1932), and part of a civil code (1933). The development of the Polish law in this period was marked by an increasing tendency toward authoritarianism. Compared with the liberal Constitution of 1921, the Constitution of 1935 was restrictive: it limited the rights of civil society, abolished juries in criminal trials, and introduced emergency courts (1932) and concentration camps (1934).

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

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