New Zealand has improved a notch in the latest World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index for 2017-2018. New Zealand is currently ranked 7th of the 113 countries assessed in the report, with a score of 0.83. This is the same score as for 2016, but represents an improvement of one place owing to Austria’s score falling. The WJP Index measures the rule of law based on experiences and perceptions of the general public and experts worldwide.
Again, New Zealand tops the WJP Index for the East Asia and Pacific Zone and it continues to be the highest-ranked common law jurisdiction in the world, ahead of Canada (9th), Australia (10th), the United Kingdom (11th) and the United States (19th). Again, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden) top the rankings.
In respect of particular sub-factors, New Zealand scores the maximum (1.00) for absence of conflict and close to this for absence of corruption in the judiciary (0.96).
However, there are several rankings for New Zealand that give rise to concern. We are ranked below our overall ranking (7th) for the broad factors of fundamental rights (11th), criminal justice (14th) and, perhaps surprisingly, order and security (16th). New Zealand’s scores are also relatively poor for the sub-factors of criminal justice relating to the absence of discrimination (0.61), effective investigations (0.63), and an effective correctional system (0.65). So there is a need for improvement in these areas.
In an associated WJP special report on Global Insights on Access to Justice (conducted on a probability sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+ in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch), 63% of New Zealanders experienced a legal problem in the last two years, the most common being in respect of housing.
Where there was an incidence of a legal problem, only 13% turned to a third party or authority to help resolve the problem and 5% reported that one party had resorted to physical violence.
In terms of resolution, 69% indicated the problem had been fully resolved (or were done with the problem), with only 4% having done this by the decision of a third party or authority. The average time to solve the problem was 7.83 months.
Encouragingly, the special report indicated 71% were satisfied with the outcome; 77% knew where to get advice; 73% were confident they could achieve a fair outcome, and 67% got all the expert help they wanted. Concerningly however, 46% disclosed they had experienced hardship as a result of their legal problem, the most common being a stress-related illness.
As the WJP acknowledges, there are inherent limitations in the methodology underpinning the WJP Index and this can probably also be said of the special report. But there is nevertheless value in assessing the areas in which New Zealand performs relatively well and those where it does not.
New Zealand’s overall ranking in the WJP Index is corroborated by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index which currently ranks New Zealand the best in the world (ie, the least corrupt), along with Denmark. Lack of corruption is an integral component of strong adherence to the rule of law.
Austin Forbes QC is convenor of the New Zealand Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee.