World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2012

The World Justice Project, an international not-for-profit organization, publishes an annual index that ranks countries on a number of scales. The 2012 Rule of Law Index came out today.

Canada fares far less well than you might imagine and certainly worse than you’d hope, as the snapshot below of our score on the major scales shows:

We’re down in all but three categories, the biggest drop being from 7th to 15th in “Limited Government Powers.” Last year’s rankings for Canada are here [PDF]. The methodology is described briefly here and in detail here [PDF].

Scandinavia topped most lists, followed closely by Australia and New Zealand. Most of Western Europe was ahead of Canada, which can claim the honour of besting the United States on all counts — but barely.

The whole report, with some explanatory material, can be downloaded here [PDF].

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  1. I was interested in the ‘limited government powers’ issue, especially since Canada’s ranking has fallen most notably here. It’s a bit hard to know what’s meant, and the ‘long’ version of the criteria is 120 pages long, so not necessarily an easy search.

    Here’s what I find for this idea, though:

    Factor 1: Limited government powers
    The first factor measures the extent to which those who govern are subject to law. This factor addresses the fundamental principle that the ruler is subject to legal restraints. It comprises the means (checks and balances), both constitutional and institutional, by which the powers of the government and its officials and agents are limited and by which they are held accountable under the law. It also includes nongovernmental checks on the government’s power, such as a free and independent press.

    This factor is particularly difficult to measure in a standardized manner across countries, since there is no single formula for the proper distribution of powers among organs of the government to ensure that each is held on check. Governmental checks take many forms; they do not operate solely in systems marked by a formal separation of powers, nor are they necessarily codified in law. What is essential is that authority is distributed, whether by formal rules or by convention, in a manner that ensures that no single organ of government has the practical ability to exercise unchecked power.

    The first sub-factor (1.1) measures the effective limitation of government powers in the fundamental law, including provisions that prohibit constitutional amendments and suspensions of constitutional rights and privileges, except in accordance with the rules and procedures provided in the fundamental law itself.

    The next six sub-factors address how effective the institutional checks on government power by the legislature, the judiciary, and independent auditing and review agencies are, including the Supreme Audit Institution and the National Human Rights Institution (ombudsman). The concept of judicial independence, which is an essential component of the system of checks and balances, is reported in sub-factor 1.3.4 The fifth sub-factor (1.5) embraces the idea of effective sanctions for misconduct of government officers in all branches of government. Sub-factor 1.6 introduces the notion of nongovernmental checks on government powers, including freedom of the media and freedom of civil and political organizations, which serve an important role in monitoring those in authority.

    Our framework does not address the further question of whether the laws are enacted by democratically elected representatives. In concepts with judicial review of government acts or a constitutional court, the judiciary is a direct check on government’s power. In the absence of judicial review, an independent judiciary is still a direct check on government power and holding them accountable for their actions.

    Finally, sub-factor 1.7 concerns the extent to which transition of power occurs according to the law. In this regard, we do not address the issue of whether transition of political power takes place through democratic elections. We simply consider whether the rules for the transfer of power are effectively upheld and occur in accordance with the law. This sub-factor incorporates elements of electoral fraud and intimidations (for those countries where elections are held), as well as the prevalence of coup d’etats, and the extent to which transition processes are open to public scrutiny.

    Pages 39 and 40 of the ‘long’ version set out in more detail the actual questions asked that are used to measure the responses. Then there is a questionnaire used to survey the countries represented in the study.

    There is no actual explanation of how the factors were applied to any particular country to come up with the rating.

    Nor is it clear (or maybe somewhere in the 120 pages it is …) whether the ratings take into account subnational governments as well as the national government. They can make a big difference to people’s lives under the law.

    Would anyone like to guess why under the Harper government, which loudly preaches the need to limit government and which acts to undercut the power of government to study and regulate things, Canada’s rating has fallen?