How Low Can You Go?

Last April I looked at how the 2016 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index ranked the United States with respect to four specific sub-factors relating to civil and criminal justice and the guarantee of labor rights.

The World Justice Project has just released a new Rule of Law Index, for 2017-18.

Many have already commented on the Index (for example here and here) and I expect many more will. It contains a wealth of data and there are many (many) things that can be said about that data.

In this post I’d like to focus on two of the Index’s 44 indicators, or sub-factors:

Accessible and Affordable Civil Justice

Sub-factor 7.1 is “people can access and afford civil justice. The 2017-18 Index describes this factor as measuring the accessibility and affordability of civil courts, “including whether people are aware of available remedies, can access and afford legal advice and representation, and can access the court system without incurring unreasonable fees, encountering unreasonable procedural hurdles, or experiencing physical or linguistic barriers.” In sum, this sub-factor measures the ability of a citizenry to effectively protect their civil (as opposed to criminal) rights and obtain redress for their civil grievances.

Focusing specifically on this sub-factor, in both 2014 and 2015, the US ranked 65th. with a  score of 0.46 and 0.47, respectively (scores are normalized on a scale of 0 to 1, where 0 is the lowest and 1 is the highest). Then, in 2016, even though it maintained a score of 0.47, its ranking plummeted to 94th.

What about the 2017-18 Index? This time the US has fallen again, with a score of 0.42 and a ranking of 96th out of 113 countries.

Think about that. Ninety-five countries in the world offer more accessible and affordable justice to their citizens than the United States does.

What countries are we talking about? Countries like Liberia (0.43), Afghanistan (0.46), Philippines (0.48), Russia (0.52), Venezuela (0.54), El Salvador (0.54), and Bulgaria (0.68). Those countries all have better civil justice systems than the United States.

The United States is not the only country to have suffered a fall with respect to this sub-factor. In the 2016 Index, the United Kingdom had a score of 0.56 and a ranking of 46th. In the 2017 Index, its score has fallen to 0.52 and its ranking has plummeted to 60th. This places the UK on par with Russia, who, with a just slightly higher score, ranks 59th.

Freedom from Discrimination in Criminal Justice

Sub-factor 8.4 measures the extent to which a country’s “criminal justice system is impartial” and non-discriminatory. Notably, its measures the extent to which a country’s criminal justice system discriminates based on socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In sum, this sub-factor measures the extent to which a country’s citizens are treated fairly and equally by the country’s criminal justice system.

For this sub-factor, in 2012-13, the US ranked a low 76th out of 97 countries (score of 0.38). In 2014, its rank jumped up to 47th out of 99 countries (score of 0.47). However, in 2015 it fell again, to 64th out of 102 countries (score of 0.42), and 2016 showed little improvement with a rank of 61st out of 113 countries (score of 0.46).

In the 2017-18 Index the US’s rank and score plummet again: to 78th and 0.37, respectively.

Compare this rank and score to Russia—a country notorious for the extreme partiality of its criminal justice system: it ranks 84th, with a score of 0.35, only slightly lower than the US. 

Countries that rank higher than the US include Belarus, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Iran. Those countries all have criminal justice systems that are more impartial and less discriminatory than that of the United States.

Download Rankings for Five Sub-Factors (All Countries Indexed)

Below you can view as well as download an excel file that contains the full rankings for these two sub-factors as well as three others, from 2012-13 through 2017-18. The data in this excel file was obtained from the World Justice website “Current & Historical Data Download.” The file includes all the countries indexed by the WJP for the year in question. For ease of analysis and comparison, the file below highlights data for these five countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and France.

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