Recently someone contacted me with questions about the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. The questions were good ones, and they got me thinking that it’s a topic worth a blog post.
First, what is the World Justice Project (WJP)? It was created in 2006 as a presidential initiative of the American Bar Association (ABA). In 2009 it became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit, with offices located in Washington, DC and Seattle, Washington. Former ABA President William Neukom is its CEO, and another former ABA President, William Hubbard, is its Chairman.
One of the principal activities of the WJP is the preparation of an annual (or nearly so) Rule of Law Index. The WJP’s website describes its Rule of Law Index as measuring “how the rule of law is experienced and perceived by the general public across the globe. It is the world’s leading source for original, independent data on the rule of law.”
The Index is prepared on the basis of polls of a country’s general population and of questionnaires submitted to in-country experts. The WJP’s process and criteria for assessing adherence to the rule of law have evolved since the organization’s founding. Today its process uses 47 indicators that are organized around nine wide-ranging themes, referred to as “factors:” constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, criminal justice, and informal justice. The 2009 Index assessed 35 countries; the 2016 Index (the most recent) assessed 113 countries.
The Index provides an overall score and ranking for each country based upon all of the factors, and also provides each country’s score for each specific sub-factor. Unfortunately, however, for most sub-factors the Index does not provide a ranking of each country by its score for that individual sub-factor. This is understandable in that it would make the already lengthy report unwieldy (the 2016 Index is already 209 pages plus a separate excel file) . At the same time, it is unfortunate as the sub-factor rankings reveal information about a country that is not evident on the basis of its overall score and rank.
Accessible and Affordable Civil Justice
Let’s take the United States, for example. In 2014, the United States’ overall rank (that is, based upon all sub-factors combined) was 19th out of 98 countries. In 2015, it again ranked 19th, this time out of 102 countries. In 2016 its overall ranking went up slightly, to 18th out of 113 countries. While those rankings are not stellar, they are respectable. But what if we dig deeper and look, most notably, at sub-factor 7.1: “people can access and afford civil justice?” This sub-factor appeared for the first time in the 2012-13 Index; that Index explains that this sub-factor combines what had previously been three different sub-factors, namely that: (i) people are aware of available civil remedies, (ii) people can access and afford legal advice and representation, and (iii) people can access and afford civil courts. In sum, the multi-component sub-factor 7.1 measures how easy (or difficult) it is for the average citizen of a country to assert and protect his/her rights and to understand his/her duties under civil (as opposed to criminal) law.
If we look at the rank of the United States specifically with respect to sub-factor 7.1, we see a very different picture as compared to the country’s overall ranking. With respect to this specific sub-factor, in both 2014 and 2015, the US ranked 65th. And in 2016 its ranking for this sub-factor plummeted to 94th. This ranking places the United States behind countries like Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. To be clear—this means that the persons living in those countries have better access to civil justice than Americans do. In most if not all aspects of their lives, they are better able to learn their rights and obligations, and better able to assure their rights and obligations are respected. Let’s repeat that list: Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe all have better civil justice systems as compared to the United States.
This is not a respectable outcome. To the contrary, it is an unqualified disaster—for American citizens and for the country as a whole. Yet you’d never realize the full extent of this fundamental problem with the rule of law in the United States if you only considered the country’s overall score.
Freedom from Discrimination in Civil and Criminal Justice
Some of the other sub-factors also merit a closer look. Sub-factor 7.2 measures the extent to which a country’s “civil justice is free of discrimination.” With respect to this sub-factor, in 2014 the US ranked 69th of 99 countries, and in 2015 the US ranked 67th of 102 countries. In 2016, the US ranking also plummeted (albeit not as far as its rank for 7.1) falling to 84th of 113 countries. Some of the countries that rank higher than the US with respect to this sub-factor include Burkina Faso, Colombia, Romania, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Uzbekistan. That means that the civil justice systems of those countries are less discriminatory than that of the United States.
Moving from civil to criminal justice, sub-factor 8.4 measures the extent to which a country’s “criminal system is impartial” and non-discriminatory. For this sub-factor, in 2012-13, the US ranked a low 76th out of 97 countries. In 2014, its rank jumped up to 47th out of 99 countries. However, in 2015 it fell again, to 64th out of 102 countries, and 2016 showed little improvement with a rank of 61st out of 113 countries. With respect to this sub-factor, the US ranks behind Albania, Belarus, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates. That means that the criminal justice systems of those countries are less discriminatory than that of the United States.
Effective Guarantee of Labor Rights
A final sub-factor that merits attention is 4.8, which measures the extent to which a country’s “fundamental labor rights are effectively guaranteed.” The 2016 Index explains that this sub-factor includes the right to collective bargaining, the prohibition of forced and child labor, and the elimination of discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. For this sub-factor, in 2012-13 the US ranked 52nd out of 97 countries. In 2014 its rank shot up, to 32nd out of 99 countries, and its rank went higher still in 2015, to 28th out of 102 countries. However, in 2016 its rank for this sub-factor fell sharply, to 59th out of 113 countries. With respect to this sub-factor, the US ranks behind Côte d’Ivoire, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The US ranking behind Uzbekistan is particularly noteworthy given that the very government of Uzbekistan has implemented and strictly enforces over its own population a system of forced labor.
Download Rankings for Four Sub-Factors (All Countries Indexed)
Below you can view as well as download an excel file that contains the full rankings for these four sub-factors, from 2012-13 through 2016. 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.
The next post will focus on sub-factor 7.1: “people can access and afford civil justice.” In particular, it will consider a newly proposed and highly intriguing explanation for why the United States as well as certain other wealthy countries face such challenges when it comes to accessible and affordable civil justice.
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