The institution of the Chancellor of Justice was established in the Republic of Estonia with the Constitution of 1938. It was established to guarantee the legality of public authority and provide legal assistance to the President of the Republic. The Chancellor of Justice at the time was a higher officer with the rights of a minister who operated under the President of the Republic and whose duty was to “guard the legality of the activities of state and other public authorities”. The first Chancellor of Justice of the Republic of Estonia was Anton Palvadre, who unfortunately only remained in office for a very short time. After the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in summer 1940, the agency of Chancellor of Justice was liquidated and Anton Palvadre was sentenced to death.
Performance of the function of Chancellor of Justice did not stop during the German or Soviet occupations. On 18 September 1944 Prime Minister Jüri Uluots formed the Government of the Republic of Estonia, which also included Richard Övel, who had been appointed as Chancellor of Justice. The continuity of the institution was preserved from 1949-1981 by Artur Mägi, who was the Chancellor of Justice with the Estonian government-in-exile and one of the authors of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia of 1938.
The institution of the Chancellor of Justice was restored in Estonia on the basis of continuity with the Constitution of 1992. The re-establishment of the institution by the example of the Constitution of 1938 demonstrated the importance of the structure within the structure of the state and our legal culture.
Pursuant to the Constitution of 1992 the Chancellor of Justice is an official appointed to office by the Riigikogu for a term of seven years (on the proposal of the President) who is independent in their activities. The Chancellor of Justice scrutinises legislative instruments of the legislative and executive branch of government and of local authorities so as to ensure conformity with the law.
The Chancellor of Justice Act of 1 June 1999 assigned the duties of ombudsman to the Chancellor of Justice to guarantee the protection of the constitutional rights and freedoms of people.
The amendment of the Chancellor of Justice Act that entered into force on 18 February 2007 added the prevention of mistreatment to the duties of the Chancellor of Justice. The Chancellor of Justice was appointed as the national preventive mechanism stipulated in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, whose duty is to inspect institutions where the freedom of people is restricted in order to prevent torture and other cruel or degrading treatment.
The amendment of the Chancellor of Justice Act that entered into force on 19 March 2011 added the protection and promotion of the rights of the child, i.e. performance of the duties of the Ombudsman for Children, to the duties of the Chancellor of Justice.
The Chancellor of Justice Act that entered into force on 1 January 2015 gave the Chancellor of Justice the competency to supervise compliance with fundamental rights and freedoms when the covert gathering, processing, use and supervision of personal data and related data by agencies of executive power is organised.
The Chancellor of Justice performs from 1 January 2019 the functions of promoting the implementation, upholding and monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Chancellor of Justice ensures that all disabled persons are able to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms on equal grounds with other persons.
As of 1 January 2019, the Chancellor of Justice is also the national human rights institution (NHRI) in Estonia. The institution was granted A-status under the Paris Principles in December 2020.