New Zealand Law Society - Worrying trend of weakening of Rule of Law continues worldwide

Worrying trend of weakening of Rule of Law continues worldwide

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The World Justice Project’s (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2020 shows that more countries declined than improved in overall rule of law performance for a third year in a row, continuing a negative slide toward weakening and stagnating rule of law around the world.

Fundamental rights saw the largest fall with an astonishing decline in scores in 67 countries in just 12 months.

The Index is a quantitative assessment tool designed to measure how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations by the general public worldwide.

The WJP defines the rule of law as a durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment that delivers on four core areas: accountability; just laws; open government; and accessible and impartial dispute resolution.

New Zealand has risen to No.7 of 128 nations with an overall score of 0.83, with Austria falling down one place. The country is also top of the East Asia and Pacific region, ahead of Australia, Singapore and Japan. Denmark tops the rankings followed by Scandinavian neighbours Norway, Finland and Sweden, with the Netherlands and Germany at fifth and sixth.

However, the areas that New Zealand does not do so well in are order and security (14th) and criminal justice (13th). In criminal justice, NZ fell down on lack of discrimination and effective investigations.

The Index shows the declines were widespread and in all corners of the world. In every region, a majority of countries slipped backward or remained unchanged in their overall rule of law performance since the 2019 Index.

At a global level, the highest levels of decline over the past year were seen in the areas of fundamental rights (54 declined, 29 improved), constraints on government powers (52 declined, 28 improved), and absence of corruption (51 declined, 26 improved). The WJP says this is not a new pattern as its data shows the same three factors were the largest decliners over a five-year time frame. Fundamental rights showed the most backsliding with 67 countries declining in score since 2015.

Civil Justice showed the most positive movement over the previous year, with 47 countries improving versus 41 declining. Since 2015, Regulatory Enforcement has improved the most, with 65 countries improving versus 29 declining.

Venezuela, Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo had the lowest overall rule of law scores — the same as in 2019. Countries with the strongest improvement were Ethiopia (5.6% increase) and Malaysia (5.1%). The largest decline in the rule of law was seen in Cameroon (-4.4%) and Iran (-4.2%).