The Rule of Law Is Declining Globally, Canada Is Not Entirely Without Room for Improvement

An annual highlight in the growing calendar of access to justice activities is the release of the World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index. The 2019 Rule of Law Index, which was released in February of this year, provides a comprehensive look at the state of the rule of law in 126 countries around the world. [1] The Index makes an important contribution in the assessment and advancement of the rule of law. In the words of the report, effective rule of law reduces corruption, combats poverty and disease, and protects people from injustices large and small. For many communities, it offers a foundation for opportunity, justice and peace—underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights. The WJP Rule of Law index is intended to reflect how everyday issues of safety, rights, justice, and governance affect people throughout the world. Importantly, the report emphasizes that everyone is a stakeholder in the rule of law.[2]

The WJP Rule of Law Index is based on primary data. The Index’s scores are compiled from assessments of 1,000 respondents per country included in the report, and local legal experts. In Canada, legal experts in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver were consulted. This methodology works to ensure that the findings reflect the actual conditions experienced by people, including residents from marginalized sectors of society. The WJP Index is also concerned with practical, everyday situations, such as whether people can access public services and whether a dispute among neighbors can be resolved peacefully and cost-effectively by an independent adjudicator.[3] The conceptual framework for the Index consists of 8 factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. Each of the 8 factors is measured using a number of specific indicators, numbering 44 in all.[4]

The banner headline from this year’s edition of the Rule of Law Index is that adherence to rule of law has declined globally over the past year. Overall scores declined in more countries than improved. The steepest decline occurred in constraints on government powers; 61 countries experienced declines, 23 remained the same and 29 countries improved their score on that factor. Canada was among the countries for which the score remained the same. Constraints on government powers is measured using 6 indicators including, the ability of legislative bodies to effectively limit government powers, independent auditing and reviews of government powers, independence of the judiciary from government influence, and whether members of different branches of government and the police are investigated, prosecuted and penalized for misconduct. According to the report, the global decline in constraints on government powers suggests a rise in authoritarianism around the world.

Over the longer term – during a five-year period from 2014 to 2019— Canada’s score on constraints on government powers has improved. In 2014 Canada’s score was 0.80. Globally Canada ranked 13th out of 99 countries included in the publication that year and 11th out of the regional group of 24 countries from North America and Western Europe. In 2019 Canada’s score on this WJP Index measure is 0.85 and Canada ranks 8th out of 126 countries worldwide and 7th out of 24 comparable regional countries.

Overall in 2019, Canada ranks 9th globally with a score of 0.81. Denmark ranks 1st with a score of 0.90. The lowest score is for Venezuela at 0.28. Although Canada ranks favourably overall among advanced nations, our score remains stubbornly low on the civil justice factor.

Canada falls behind to the greatest extent on two indicators comprising the civil justice factor: accessible and affordable justice and, absence of unreasonable delays. Returning to the five-year perspective, Canada scored 0.54 on accessible and affordable justice in 2014 and 0.57 in 2019. The country score on unreasonable delays was 0.55 in 2014, declining to 0.47 in 2019.These scores are useful in that they reflect patterns of trend and change or the absence of movement and offer insight on where improvement is needed.

Canadians must be vigilant about events and conditions that affect all aspects of the rule of law. Collectively we need to do much more to improve access to civil justice.

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


[1] World Justice Project, “World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2019” (February 2019), online: World Justice Project <>.

[2] World Justice Project, “World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2019”, supra note 1 at 7.

[3] World Justice Project, “World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2019”, supra note 1 at 8.

[4] World Justice Project, “World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2019”, supra note 1 at 10 –13.


  1. (1) Affordable lawyers, and, (2) the quality of primary, secondary, and higher levels of education as to the “rule of law factors” and their importance, should be two separate factors because they impact so very heavily and decisively upon the effectiveness and prevalence of the other factors. Instead, it appears that they are merely two sub-factors, or just two of 44 “specific indicators” in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. Because not enough effort and resources are devoted to those two factors, the above results as to the other factors listed above will always be disappointing.
    As a profession, our goal should be to make each community’s legal health as important to it as its medical health, and its lawyers as important to it as its doctors. To do that, successfully promoting factors (1) and (2) is essential.
    Instead, our law societies in Canada are never seen to be so bold or purposeful. Let’s fix that by electing more socially purposeful benchers so we can give Canada more socially purposeful law societies and legal profession. Those should be the themes advertised by our law societies and big law firms. As a profession, we lack such imaginative and purposeful leadership.
    But clearly, the CFCJ is doing considerably more than Canada’s law societies are doing to promote those themes as necessary ideals.