Rule of law and justice can be made much more palatable but indicators should be handled with care
Rule of law indicators have tremendous value but should also be used with care. Not only is more investment needed in measuring justice and rule of law, it is also necessary that the measurers and the policy makers who use the instruments interact more. Policy makers must be better equipped to use them in their work.
In a workshop organised by HiiL together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Security and Justice, Juan Botero, the Executive Director of the World of Justice Project, set out the tremendous value of rule of law and justice indicators, while at the same time highlighting their limitations.
Juan Botero is one of the world’s leading indicator builders and a pioneer in a field where the idea of measuring faces much opposition: rule of law. Rule of law is not something you can measure, the argument goes. It is simply too all encompassing, too broad, with too many different meanings. Juan and his team that built the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index convincingly showed the world that it could be done. In The Hague he presented the latest edition of its Rule of Law Index It fits into a broader trend of measuring ‘softer’ policy areas, such as ‘peace’ (see: the Global Peace Index); ‘happiness’ (for example, Gross National Happiness) and Happy Planet Index), and ‘governance’ (Worldwide Governance Indicators).
An interesting meeting of worlds, this workshop. At one end of the table, policy makers in the field of rule of law, longing for something to hold on to. Struggling with fragile states, the EU justice area, and human rights. On their backs, weighing heavily on their shoulders, a rucksack with kilos of criticism on rule of law programmes they fund or are otherwise involved with. Money down the drain. No lasting impact. Nothing to show for. On top of that, the additional weight of the many cries for more rule of law from those who face serious violations of human rights, entrepreneurs who want a more stable environment to work in, victims of crime and fraud, and many, many others.
At the other end of the table the measurers themselves, who fully believe in what they do but who also worry. They know exactly what they have been able to measure but, more importantly, what they have not been able to measure. “Does your index say anything about informal justice systems?”, the speaker was asked by a policy maker in the field of fragile states.
“No..” he responded, and he explained that the data he collects asks only about the formal justice system. So the fact people respond to a particular question about a particular aspect of the formal justice system means that it is being used. But it says little about how much. It may very well be that most people, in particular areas – say, divorce – rely mostly on informal justice systems. Moreover, he explained that polls are only collected in large urban areas. So there is also a certain bias there. When it is reported in Tunisia that 80% of Tunisians feel that there is freedom of expression in their country (see tunisialive), Juan knows what that means and does not mean.
“Our theory of change is based on being an honest broker, a fully transparent presenter, of high quality data. We can explain that data to policy makers. But policy conclusions are never ours to make. That is for the policy makers.“
By showing what perceptions are on many aspects of the rule of law and comparing that to regional averages, averages of countries, or averages of other courts, measuring instruments create visibility, some competition to be better, and make trends visible. At the core: impact on the citizen. We must work more to bring measurers and policy makers together.
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