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Rule of Law

30 June 2017

The World Justice Project has recently published its sixth Rule of Law Index (2016).

By using performance indicators focusing on nine measuring factors, the Index assesses the Rule of Law outcomes in 113 countries and compares each country’s performance with how it had been rated in previous years and then gives each country a ranking within its income grouping, its geographical region and globally.

The nine factors (which are broken down into some 47 detailed sub-factors) are: Constraints on Government Powers; Absence of Corruption; Open Government; Fundamental Human Rights; Order and Security; Regulatory Enforcement; Civil Justice; Criminal Justice, and Informal Justice.

By and large, across all nine measures, New Zealand has retained its overall factor score (at 0.83 in each of the last three years).

However, taken across all measures, it seems that New Zealand has not improved, or improved sufficiently, to avoid being overtaken in the global rankings by both Germany and Austria, slipping from being the number six ranked country, globally, in both 2014 and 2015, to 8th place in 2016. (As an aside, the other countries ahead of New Zealand are Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Netherlands).

From a quick appraisal of the data in the Index, a couple of things stand out and are worthy of comment, in this writer’s view.

First, and notably, there is New Zealand’s failure to improve its scores, and its rankings, as to how it performs in both the Civil Justice and Criminal Justice measuring factors. New Zealand’s scores in both these areas have stayed, consistently, in the mid 0.70s (with its global ranking sliding to 11th for Civil and 13th for Criminal). Those scores are to be compared with New Zealand’s scores in the other measures, which are, consistently, in the mid to late 0.80s. Rhetorically, why should this be so? Despite much touted reforms, why is performance in these areas not up to what should be, I suggest, the expected mark?

Secondly, against other countries, New Zealand’s ranking has slipped in a number of the other measured areas, as well as in Civil and Criminal Justice. In Open Government we have gone from 2nd (2015) to 6th (2016); in Fundamental Rights from 9th to 10th; and in Regulatory Enforcement from 5th to 8th. Again rhetorically, why such a failure to progress in these five fundamental Rule of Law areas?

For thought and discussion, I hope.

Nigel Hampton QC

The NZLS Rule of Law Committee responds

Nigel Hampton QC has raised some important points regarding New Zealand’s performance in the World Justice Project’s most recent Rule of Law Index. New Zealand was the 8th ranked country, globally, in 2016, compared to 6th in 2014 and 2015. The Index is based on a complex methodology and it will take further research to understand why perceptions and experiences give rise to lower scores for criminal and civil justice. It is clear, however, that there is cause for real concern, and the Rule of Law Committee will consider exploring these issues in a forthcoming edition of LawTalk.

Having said that, New Zealand’s current ranking does need to be viewed in context: its overall score (0.83) in the Index is the same as that for Germany and Austria. New Zealand is the highest-ranked common law jurisdiction in the world, ahead of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States. The slip in New Zealand’s overall ranking by two places was in part a consequence of Germany having improved its ranking by two places.


Last updated on the 30th June 2017