The December 2010 issue of the ABA Journal (American Bar Association) has an article about the “Rule of Law Index.” I did not know such a thing existed. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of it either because this is the first time that the World Justice Project has produced it. They spent 3 years doing the research and compiling the data from interviews with 35,000 people and 900 experts in 35 countries. The report was released on October 14, 2010 at the National Press Club in D.C.
The Index has good news and bad news. The bad news first: the United States didn’t do so well in measuring up against other wealthy nations – (yet another report showing how America is falling behind). And the bad news gets worse as you dig into the accompanying charts. It wasn’t just the affluent industrialized countries that beat us. The Index covers 35 countries on every continent, grouped by income level and region. And the bad news gets worse when you find out that the U.S. ranks last on providing access to civil justice. In other words, as the article points out, it’s difficult if not impossible for our citizens to bring cases to court and have professional legal representation because our judicial process is either not available nor affordable.
It occurred to me that we probably won’t hear about this report on our news networks. Stuff like this doesn’t seem to capture our national attention. So here I am blogging about it.
Here are the nine key factors that were used in the study: 1) Limited Governmental Powers; 2) Absence of Corruption; 3) Clear, Publicized and Stable Laws; 4) Order and Security; 5) Fundamental Rights; 6) Open government; 7) Regulatory Enforcement; 8) Access to Civil Justice; 9) Effective Criminal Justice. Each factor is defined in the article.
I was most surprised by our ranking on #2, Absence of Corruption. We rank last in our region and second to last when compared to income group rankings and we’re #11 out of 35 globally. Here is the criteria for this factor: “Do government officials – including police, the military and the judiciary – largely refrain from such things as bribery, improper influence from public or private interests, and misappropriation of public resources?”
Okay – I know you’re thinking – how could this be? Isn’t America the Land of Liberty? We always hear in the news about places like Russia where bribery abounds. America is way above that fray, right? Well, here are the 35 countries in the study (in random order) – you can draw your own conclusions: Canada, U.S., Mexico, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Sweden, Austria, Netherlands, France, Spain, Morocco, Croatia, Albania, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Poland, Bulgaria, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, India, South Africa, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia.
Sweden and the Netherlands had the highest rankings in most of the categories. Singapore did well, also. It was #1 in “Access to Civil Justice” and “Order and Security”. Austria, Japan and Australia made it into the top three a few times. The U.S. got into the top 3 one time: “Open Government” – despite all the talk about lack of transparency.
The World Justice Project gives a working definition for the Rule of Law:
• The government and its officials are accountable under the law
• The laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property
• The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient
• Access to justice is provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives and reflects the makeup of the communities they serve
The World Justice Project is having their 2nd Annual Rule of Law Conference from January 26-28, 2011 centering on the Asia Pacific region (the first conference focused on Latin America and the Caribbean). The topics which will be covered are interesting:
1. Building a Better Business Enabling Environment
2. Mitigating Environmental Degradation
3. Ensuring Basic Rights for Migrants and Refugees
Hmm… I wonder what the topics would be if the conference were held in the U.S.?
Oh, about the good news in the ABA Journal’s article… well, there was plenty of good news for Sweden and the Netherlands, but I suppose the good news for the U.S. is that the World Justice Project came up with this idea for a Rule of Law Index in the first place. We can use this as a call for action. It’s just not right that the United State of America didn’t do well on this. Weren’t we the ones that came up with the most revolutionary form of government the world has ever seen? one that guarantees freedom and justice for all?