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Access to the Civil Justice System in Canada Is a Concern According to Data From the 2016 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index

According to the most recent World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, Canada ranks 12th overall out of 113 countries included in the survey. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands rank 1st to 5th, respectively. Canada’s overall index score of 0.81 is tied with the UK and Australia. The US ranks 18th overall. Ranking 12th out of 113 puts Canada near the top of the global ranking. Canada ranks 9th out of 24 European and North American countries and 12th out of 36 high income countries, above the median in these two more comparable groups of countries.

The overall Rule of Law Index is a composite of nine separate indexes. The eight on which Canada is ranked are shown in the table below, with each one consisting of several indicators. Canada is not ranked on Informal Justice. The rule of law measures for Canada are derived from an online survey of individuals in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver as well as qualitative data gathered in interviews with Canadian academics and legal practitioners. The Index, published every year since 2008, provides a valuable basis for examining changes over time in Canada (although some of the measures themselves have changed) and, is also a basis for comparison with other countries. By pointing to broadly similar countries that score better on rule of law measures, the survey directs us to possible comparative research that might provide ideas about how improvements might be brought about in Canada.

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The accessibility of the civil justice system is an aspect of rule of law on which Canada scores relatively poorly, in comparison with other measures for Canada and with other countries. The table below shows how Canada scored on the seven component indicators of the civil justice measure. Because the Netherlands ranked highest overall, the Dutch scores are shown for comparison.

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According to these data, accessibility and affordability of civil justice and unreasonable delays are the most pressing problems for access to the civil justice system. Over the last 5 years Canada has remained relatively the same in terms of access to civil justice. According to the 2012 World Justice Project data Canada’s score on civil justice was 0.72. It remained at 0.72 in 2013 and 2014, falling slightly to 0.70 in 2015. Canada’s overall rank on civil justice in 2016 was 0.72. In each of the last 5 years, accessibility and unreasonable delay received the lowest scores. While being wary of assigning an unwarranted degree of artificial precision to these numbers, clearly access to civil justice has been a persistent problem. We should look to other countries that seem to be doing better on these measures. The more comprehensive legal aid system and the famed Rechtwijzer online dispute resolution system in the Netherlands are examples of where to look.

Ab Currie, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow
Canadian Forum on Civil Justice

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