New Zealand Law Society - No cause for complacency on rule of law

No cause for complacency on rule of law

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The 2015 Rule of Law Index was publicly released on 9 June 2015 and the results for New Zealand show no cause for complacency, I suggest. I have been a “contributing expert” to this Index for a number of years now (noting that some 65 or so other New Zealanders made similar contributions this year).

In the 2015 edition of the Index New Zealand is ranked 6th out of the 102 counties surveyed and tested (and 1st of the 15 nations surveyed in the East Asia/Pacific region). Such results, on the face of them, sound creditable and a cause for some satisfaction.

But closer examination is warranted. Some necessary background first – the Index is compiled from data obtained (as to each of the 102 countries) over a series of 44 performance indicators across eight categories (see the table at right).

Rankings have fallen

On the face, New Zealand achieved reasonable rankings it might be argued. But when one realises that in the 4 years from the Index of 2011 to the Index of 2015 New Zealand’s rankings have fallen in 7 of the 8 categories, attitudes of complacency should be set aside.

Perhaps of particular concern, over and above the disquieting fall in New Zealand’s “Absence of Corruption” ranking from absolute world leader to 6th placing, is the trend downwards in the “Constraints on Government Powers” category.

In the 2014-2015 year the fall in this category has been of such magnitude as to see it earn an Index tag as “a statistically significant decline in the past year”. Does this decline reflect a still increasing growth in New Zealand of the use of executive powers? A stand-out feature in this category is to be seen in the “independent auditing” (of government powers) indicator – a score of 0.66, the lowest New Zealand score in the Index.


2011 rank

2015 rank

Constraints on Government Powers



Absence of Corruption



Open Government



Fundamental Rights



Order and Security



Regulatory Enforcement



Civil Justice



Criminal Justice



New Zealand’s 9th place in the “Fundamental Rights” category might be seen, I suggest, to point to the absence of an entrenched and superior New Zealand Bill of Rights. The lowest indicator score in that category (a 0.73) is as to the “right to privacy”, perhaps indicating the on-going public and political debate on privacy issues.

In both the “Civil Justice” and the “Criminal Justice” categories, the indicators as to “no unreasonable delay” (civil) and “timely and effective adjudication” (criminal) received relatively low scores (0.73 and 0.75 respectively).

The other two lowest scoring indicators in “Civil Justice” are “accessibility and affordability” (0.71) and “effective enforcement” (0.71). In “Criminal Justice” the three lowest ranked indicators are “no discrimination” (a worrying 0.66, equalling the lowest New Zealand score), “effective investigations” (0.68) and “effective correctional system” (0.69).

In my view, all the matters which I have highlighted in the civil and criminal justice areas are indications of areas within our justice system where first, further efforts and improvements in performance, and secondly, reflective thought and, if necessary, change, are required from all who have a part to play in the system.

Nigel Hampton QC celebrated 50 years since his admission in February this year. He graduated from Canterbury University in 1964, winning the Gold Medal for top graduate of the year. He has served in numerous capacities, including as Tonga’s Chief Justice from 1995 to 1997, as the International Criminal Court’s first Disciplinary Commissioner of Counsel. His Law Society service has included being on the Canterbury District Law Society’s Council from 1978-87, as President in 1986 and 1987. From 1987 to 1989 he was the New Zealand Law Society’s South Island Vice-President. Mr Hampton was awarded an OBE for services to the law in 1988.

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