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People surveyed say they feel safer, though trust in rule of law wanes

Source: Wed, 5 Mar 2014 08:46 GMT
Author: Ashley Renders
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THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Marion Vagner and Stella Dawson
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NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in a number of countries around the world are finding it harder to catch offenders, and people are losing trust in their countries' courts, even though they generally feel safer, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The World Justice Project found in its 2014 Rule of Law Index that the quality of criminal justice declined significantly in 20 out of the 99 countries surveyed, and none experienced a significant improvement.

While some citizens were concerned about corruption in the courts, others simply questioned whether they could hold government officials and other powerful people accountable for their actions, said Juan Carlos Botero, executive director of World Justice Project.

“Even in developed countries, people's perception of the effectiveness of the judicial oversight of the government has gone down,” Botero said.

At the same time, the index showed that order and security have improved in 25 countries and declined in only seven. This was measured by asking about people's perceptions of their safety based on their experiences with crime; the level of civil conflict and terrorism in their society; and whether violence was used to address grievances.

These seemingly contradictory trends indicate that the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is not the sole determinant of levels of violence in a society and views on personal safety, said Botero. 

While robberies, extortion and property crime have gone up in some countries, terrorism and conflict-related deaths have decreased over the last year, along with the use of violence to address grievances, according to the findings. This is the main driver behind the upward trend toward greater order and security, Botero said.

COUNTRY RANKINGS

The index is in its fourth year and surveys 100,000 households and experts to measure nine factors related to the rule of law - constraints on government power, levels of corruption, openness of government, protection of fundamental rights, order and security, enforcement of rules, and access to civil, criminal and informal justice.

Denmark led the world in all nine categories, with Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands filling the remaining top five spots. 

Venezuela ranked last with Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Cameroon taking the final five spots.

Yet, some countries at the bottom of the list showed significant improvements in more than one category. Cameroon ranked 95th overall, but showed improvements in four out of eight categories. Spain, on the other hand, ranked 24th overall, but showed deterioration in four categories.

Civil conflict and terrorism have decreased in Ethiopia, India, Uganda, Colombia and Turkey. Nigeria, on the other hand, saw a rise in civil conflict.

There are many factors that determine the level of civil conflict and terrorism in a given country, and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is just one of them, Botero said.

“Rule of law” exists when laws are clear, fair and efficient, and when government officials are held accountable to the public under those laws, says the index. When a law is broken, justice must be timely, ethical and delivered by independent representatives of the community.

Ashley Renders is a fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs.

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