The prosecutor's office in the Russian Federation plays a pivotal role in law enforcement, including criminal investigations and prosecution, representation of the state's interests in civil disputes, supervision of the functioning of prisons and places of detention, and investigation of citizens' grievances.
The Procuracy was introduced in 1722 by Peter the Great in an effort to create a public law system similar to those in Western Europe. However, in practice, the Procuracy focused primarily on supervising the prompt and full execution of the tsar's edicts. Catherine II extended procuratorial supervision to regional and local levels, where procurators served as the "eyes of the tsar" in monitoring the activity of provincial governors and other officials. This function was widely resented by provincial governors and was eliminated by the legal reforms of 1864.
A decree of November 24, 1917, of the Council of People's Commissars abolished the Procuracy and all other tsarist legal institutions in favor of more informal control mechanisms. In 1922 the Bolshevik government reestablished the Procuracy to serve as the "eyes of the state," insuring full and complete cooperation in executing the policies of the state and the Communist Party.
During the Stalin era the Procuracy, under the leadership of Procurator-General Andrei Vyshinsky, aggressively pursued suspected opponents of Stalin's regime and secured their speedy imprisonment or execution. The Procuracy's jurisdiction was also extended to non-legal matters, such as overseeing the successful implementation of industrialization and collectivization.
After Stalin's death in 1953, the Procuracy shifted its emphasis from coercion and repression to prosecuting ordinary criminals and supervising legality in the operations of various governmental agencies. The Procuracy grew in power and prestige during the post-Stalin period. By the 1980s it employed more than 18,000 lawyers and supervised an additional 18,000 criminal investigators; together they comprised more than one-quarter of the Soviet Union's legal profession.
Prosecutors were slow in responding to Gorbachev's reforms, viewing them as a threat to their wide-ranging authority. The Procuracy managed to defend its privileged position in the Russian legal system even after the demise of the USSR. A new "Law on the Procuracy of the Russian Federation" was enacted in 1995. The law enshrined the Procuracy as a single, unified, and centralized institution charged with "supervising the implementation of laws by local legislative and executive bodies, administrative control organs, legal entities, public organizations, and officials, as well as the lawfulness of their acts." While the Procuracy's jurisdiction remained broad, it lost power to supervise the operation of the courts, which was transferred to the Ministry of Justice.
The powers of the Procuracy have been further restricted by the new criminal procedure code, which was enacted in July 2002. According to the code, prosecutors may no longer issue search warrants or order suspects to be detained. In addition, prosecutors must appear in court to present the state's case, rather than rely on an extensive dossier compiled during the preliminary investigation. These and other restrictions were undertaken to limit the Procuracy's privileged status in criminal prosecutions, engender a more adversarial process, and elevate the status and independence of the courts.
See also: legal systems
Mikhailovskaya, Inga. (1999). "The Procuracy and Its Problems." East European Constitutional Review 11:1–2.
Smith, Gordon B. (1978). The Soviet Procuracy and the Supervision of Administration. Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands: Sijthoff & Noordhoff.
Gordon B. Smith