New Zealand holds 6th place on Rule of Law Index

2 June 2015

New Zealand ranks 6th of the 102 countries surveyed for the 2015 Rule of Law Index published today. This place is unchanged on the 2014 survey although there was minor deterioration in a number of the component elements. Australia slipped from 8th to 10th in the rankings.

The index is as part of the World Justice Project (WJP) (together with the Open Government Index). “It provides original, impartial data on how the rule of law is experienced by the general public in 102 countries around the globe.”

This year data from over 100,000 household and 2,400 expert surveys provides a measure how the rule of law is experienced in everyday situations around the world. Forty four indicators are grouped into eight categories:

  • Constraints on Government Powers
  • Absence of Corruption
  • Open Government
  • Fundamental Rights
  • Order and Security
  • Regulatory Enforcement
  • Civil Justice
  • Criminal Justice.

The WJP Rule of Law Index is described as the most comprehensive index of its kind  relying solely on primary data including a cross section of 1,000 respondents per country.

 2015                       Rule of Law Index                                   2014

1 Denmark   1
2 Norway 2
3 Sweden 3
4 Finland 4
5 Netherlands 5
6 New Zealand 6
7 Austria 7
8 Germany 9
9 Singapore 10
10 Australia 8
11 Korea 14
112 United Kingdom 13

The elements making up the New Zealand rank show a deterioration in four of the elements, an improvement in one and no change in the other three.

New Zealand  ranking on Rule of Law Elements                                      2015                     2014

Constraints on Government Powers 8 4
Absence of Corruption 6 3
Open Government 2 2
Fundamental Rights 9 7
Order and Security 15 11
Regulatory Enforcement 5 5
Civil Justice 9 9
Criminal Justice 8 12

New Zealand again rates well on Rule of Law index – but who cares?

2 April 2014

New Zealand now ranks 6th on the Rule of Law Index published by the World Justice Project last month (comparing 99 countries). It was placed 4th on the 2011 Index (which compared 66 countries) – the 2012-13 Index did not include overall rankings.

Neither New Zealand media nor interest groups have shown much interest in this Index which measures adherence to the Rule of Law through 47 indicators organised around eight themes –

  • constraints on government powers
  • absence of corruption
  • open government
  • fundamental rights
  • order and security
  • regulatory enforcement
  • civil justice, and
  • criminal justice.

Transparency International (NZ) which champions the rule of law as an overarching component of the National Integrity System made no reference to the Index findings in its proposals for strengthening the NIS, released a fortnight after the Index was published. Transparency International (NZ) proposals were heavy on promoting open government, but the Index rated New Zealand as globally the second best for its open government focus, better than its third place ranking for the absence of corruption.

The Office of the Auditor General website makes no mention of the Rule of Law Index although the six Worldwide Governance Indicators, of which one is the rule of law, are measures for determining its statement of intent goal of trusted state services. (But then again the OAG site has not recognised the Worldwide Governance Indicators report published in September 2013 either.)

The Rule of Law Index places New Zealand in the top ten globally in six of the eight dimensions measured. ‘Criminal justice’ and ‘order and security’ are the more poorly rated dimensions. Compared with most, New Zealand has a healthy abundance of the foundational premises for the Rule of Law –

  • accountability under law
  • clear and publicised law, applied evenly, which protects rights
  • legislative and enforcement processes that are fair and accessible
  • accessible and timely justice.


Bill Gates is a substantial sponsor of the World Justice Project.


World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2014

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Sweden
  4. Finland
  5. Netherlands
  6. New Zealand
  7. Austria
  8. Australia
  9. Germany
  10. Singapore




Africa has huge rule of law disparities – Ibrahim Index

20 October 2013

The rule of rule has deteriorated in Africa over the last 12 months.  That is one of the findings of the Ibrahim Index, published in mid October each year.  Having little direct relevance to New Zealand, the index assesses development in Africa.  The 52 countries covered this year exclude both Sudan and South Sudan as insufficient data was available.  Ironically Mo Ibrahim, a philanthropist who established the Index, is Sudanese.

The index marks countries for their progress in four categories: human development, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, and safety and the rule of law.

“There were no surprises at the top – and bottom – ranked countries overall. At the upper end of the scale, Mauritius was followed by Botswana, Cape Verde and Seychelles. These four countries have shared the four top slots, in various positions, since the index was launched….

Somalia was the poorest performing country overall and in all four categories, a position it has held for the past seven years. Second from bottom was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by Eritrea and then the Central African Republic.

Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Burundi have made the biggest improvements since 2000, while Madagascar, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia and Libya have deteriorated the most over that period.”

The rule of law and safety category (which measures judicial process, accountability and transparency, corruption, social unrest, violent crime, conflict and refugees) had marks ranging from Botswana at 88.9% to Somalia at 4.9%. Mali and Egypt both had substantial deteriorations in the quality of their rule of law.

The Ibrahim Foundation has not awarded its Ibrahim Prize for a fourth time in the last seven years.The award is for a democratically elected former African leader who on stepping down from office shows excellence in a continuing commitment to good government.

Is the rule of law holding up in NZ?

5 July 2013

Results of the annual Rule of Law Index will be explored next week as part of the World Justice Forum at The Hague.

New Zealand has rated among countries showing greatest respect for the rule of law in each year since the World Justice Project began. However a concern for New Zealand is that its ranking slipped markedly last year compared with the two previous Indices (although there were 98 participating jurisdictions last year compared with 66 in the previous year).  Nevertheless the Index summary from last year described New Zealand as standing out  “…as the best performer in the region. Its judicial system is accessible, independent, and effective, and government agencies and courts are efficient and free of corruption….”

Ironically this week’s High Court  judgment on the regulations facilitating the Government’s smoke- free prisons’ policy concluded that the regulations were ultra vires. The regulation making power did not enable a prohibition on smoking and, though the list of prisoner privileges was prescribed by regulation, a privilege could not be taken from that list by regulation.

Because prohibitions on smoking and on the possession of tobacco have now been enacted in remedial legislation, the prohibition on smoking in prisons will continue.  The Court felt that there was need for a declaration that the Regulations were invalid as that may be the only remedy.

The ranking of New Zealand in this year’s Index will perhaps confirm whether aspects of public administration that capture media headlines are indicative of declining standards, or whether, in the international scheme of things, New Zealand remains among the World’s best in maintaining the rule of law.

New Zealand standards slipping in Rule of Law survey

3 December 2012

The 2012 World Justice Project’s Rule of Law survey results were published last week.  In many ways this survey is the most comprehensive collation of measures which indicate the quality of government in the countries surveyed – there are 98 jurisdictions in the 2012 survey.   It does not have the profile of the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (the 2012 CPI will be available in New Zealand on Thursday) but has a broad range of sector assessments which enable more meaningful international comparisons.

The subfactors displayed in graphic form (see the link below) highlight by how much New Zealand falls below international good practice on a number of the measures.

The survey evaluates the way countries give effect to the “four universal principles” of the rule of law. These principles are’

  1. Accountable Government:  The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
  2. Security and Fundamental Rights:  The laws are clear, publicised, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
  3. Open Government and Regulatory Enforcement:  The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, efficient, and fair.
  4. Delivery of Justice:  Justice is delivered by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

A concern for New Zealand is that its ranking is sliding markedly compared with the two previous Rule of Law surveys. Most notable is the drop in the corruption measure with New Zealand now seen as being more corrupt than all the Scandinavian countries.

New Zealand remains in the “top ten” places on seven of eight dimensions.  Some of the movement down the league can be explained by 32 more jurisdictions being assessed than last year.

New Zealand 2012 (98 states) 2011 (66 states)
Limited government powers 6th 2nd
Absence of corruption 6th 1st
Order and security 12th 12th
Fundamental rights 5th 4th
Open government 4th 2nd
Regulatory enforcement 9th 3rd
Civil justice 9th 4th
Criminal justice 7th 3rd


  Limited govt. powers Absence of corruption Order and security Fund’al rights Open govt. Reg’y enf’mt Civil justice Criminal justice
1 Denmark Sweden Sing’pre Sweden Sweden Sweden Norway Denmark
2 Sweden Denmark Hong


Denmark Ne’thlds Japan Ne’thds Finland
3 Norway Norway Finland Norway Norway Denmark Germany Sing’pre
4 Finland Finland Denmark Finland New Zealand Austria Singapore Norway
5 Australia Ne’thds UAE New Zealand Australia Australia Finland Sweden
6 New Zealand New Zealand Sweden Spain Canada Norway Denmark Ne’thds
7 Ne’thds Sing’pre Japan Poland Finland Ne’thds Sweden New Zealand
8 Austria Australia Uzb’stan Australia Japan Finland Japan Hong


9 Germany Hong


Austria Ne’thds Hong


New Zealand New Zealand Germany
10 Japan Japan Canada Austria Austria Sing’pre Austria Rep Korea

                                               New Zealand  12th                     

Championing the rule of law

27 April 2012
Among topics explored at a well attended Lawyers in Government Conference yesterday were issues relating to ethics, public interest and delivering on the results being sought from better public services changes. Agency lawyers have a role to champion lawfulness, something that is not always appreciated by their colleagues who are focused on achieving particular policy outcomes. Interestingly speakers’ attention was on the professional obligations of practitioners and the concurrent obligations as government employees gained little attention.
Agency lawyers, in the same way as any other group in government that has a professional code of ethics, cannot subordinate their obligations to government. The Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services apply across the State Services, and the principles of public service specified in the Cabinet Manual have a continuing application. Guidance on Understanding the code of conduct recognises the complications of multiple obligations –
“ In some organisations, collective employment agreements …may recognise commitments under codes of conduct of relevant professional associations. Organisations must always have regard to their obligations to the Government and determine how they will comply with the requirements of the State Services Commissioner’s code of conduct when developing this type of agreement…”
The conference concluded with a superb address by Justice Joe Williams. He identified the characteristics of a good life as the outcomes of good government. Good government is delivered through the rule of law. The Judge seemed familiar with the World Justice Project findings although not referring specifically to this international programme for measuring and promoting compliance with the rule of law. He electrified the audience recounting the story of te Kooti, and abusive processes by officials over many years. The message was that government lawyers must be champions of the rule of law.
Of course that is the duty of everyone in government. Championing the rule of law is part of the spirit of service. It is explicit in being fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy.

High Rule of Law Index ratings maintained

15 June 2011

The Rule of Law Index was published this week as part of the World Justice Project. The index is a way of measuring the reality of the rule of law as experienced by ordinary members in the participating countries.  It is outcome focused (eg absence of corruption rather than the number of police officers).  And New Zealand measures up well – as it has since the first index was released in 2008.  This year New Zealand is in the top 4 places on seven of the eight factors (and 52 sub factors) which make up the index.

A Washington Post article reports …”New Zealand was ranked the least-corrupt nation of 66 examined ….while the U.S. finished an unremarkable 17th. The ranking is another feather in New Zealand’s cap, after the country tied for 1st in…the Transparency International 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.”

When comparing the sixty six participating countries New Zealand was assessed as follows;

Limited government powers          2nd

Absence of corruption                       1st

Order and security                             11th   (At 10th, only on this factor does Australia rate better than NZ)

Fundamental rights                            3rd

Open government                               2nd

Regulatory enforcement                  3rd

Access to civil justice                        4th

Effective criminal justice                 3rd

The absence of corruption in the judiciary, the military and the police is tarnished somewhat by a perception that the executive branch has lower standards than other parts of government. New Zealand is assessed as strong on protecting the freedom of opinion and expression, for processes on sanctioning misconduct by officials and for the lawful transition of power to successive governments.

The poor evaluation of law and order is a reflection of comparatively low scores for effective control of crime, effectiveness in limiting civil conflict and the extent to which people resort to violence to redress grievances.

New Zealand was given only average ratings for the accessibility, affordability, delay-free and non discriminatory character of civil justice. The effectiveness of the correctional system was also substantially below the rating given to most other subfactors.

Governments must act lawfully!

6 January 2014

The stary of a new year is as good a time as any to be reminded of one of the fundamental principles of good government. Governments must act lawfully!

This was an emphasis in the Auditor General’s report on the Mangawhai community wastewater scheme published in November – but which a google search indicates has not been considered printworthy by others.

“Legislation enacted by Parliament is more than general guidance. Every public entity is exercising the power of the state. The essence of the rule of law is that the power of the state must be exercised in accordance with the law. Compliance with the law is not optional, and near enough is not good enough. There have been too many examples in recent years of public sector entities being too cavalier about matters of legal compliance. All public entities need to pay careful attention to both the spirit and the letter of their legal obligations if they are to retain the trust of the people they serve.

It is also fundamental that public entities should be able to demonstrate what they are doing and why, when that is questioned. Public entities should expect to be tested, whether by members of the public, the media, or the courts. This is accountability in action, and public entities need to be ready to explain themselves.”

There is nothing novel in the way that obligation is expressed.  It reflects the State Services code of conduct.  The Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services require that “We must act lawfully and objectively”.  Understanding the Code for Conduct – Guidance for State Servants explains the obligation as follows:

“We obey the law. This means we must act within the letter and spirit of the law. We recognise that the purpose of many of our organisational policies and procedures is to give effect to the requirements of the law. When making decisions, we must act within the scope of the power or discretion conferred on us, and within our delegated authority. The exercise of executive powers must comply with both New Zealand law and any international conventions given effect through statute.

It is important we show an objective and balanced approach to our legislative responsibilities. We respect the traditions of liberal democratic government and the rule of law. We do not act arbitrarily or oppressively in giving effect to law. Actions that are unreasonable or unjust can be unlawful. We must maintain accurate, complete and accessible records of the decisions and actions we take.

Many organisations have responsibility for administering and enforcing particular pieces of legislation. This responsibility must not blind us to the equal importance of other laws…”


Added robustness in NZ lawmaking

25 July 2013

Enhanced rule of law measures to ensure that future New Zealand legislation “ is robust and consistent with good legislative practice” come into force next week. A  disclosure statement will be a key feature of new legislative proposals considered by Parliament. This requirement will itself be codified, but in the interim administrative processes are specified in a Cabinet Circular.

The Circular sets out the requirement that any Cabinet Committee paper seeking new legislation must state what is intended as the final content of the Bill. The explanatory note of a Bill when Introduced is to have a hyperlink to a disclosure statement published on the Parliamentary Counsel Office website. The Department responsible for the Bill is to ensure the disclosure statement includes:

  • General Policy Statement  of what the proposed law seeks to achieve, and how those objectives will be met.
  • Background Material and Policy Information  that indicates policy issues incorporated in the proposed law.
  • Testing of Legislative Content  identifying how quality assurance has been carried out on the proposed law.
  • Significant Legislative Features  including any unusual provisions in the proposal.

The disclosure statement must be finalised with PCO no later than two working days prior to the intended introduction of the Bill. MPs will get hard copies of the disclosure statement when the Bill is distributed.

The Treasury which has administrative responsibility for the scheme, will monitor and refine processes pending empowering legislation.

The World Justice Project evaluates the quality of the Rule of Law in all jurisdictions by scoring 44 sub-factors. These include “Government Powers limited by legislation” as part of Accountable Government, and “Laws are publicised” as part of Open Government and Regulatory Enforcement.  The disclosure statement that will now accompany New Zealand legislation should have a positive impact on these measures when the 2013 Rule of Law Index is published later this year.

Of the 97 countries listed on the 2012 Index, New Zealand ranked 6th for Accountable Government and 4th for Open Government and Regulatory Enforcement.

Peering into Westminster uncovers unlawful support for lobbyists

4 June 2013

From a Westminster perspective  trouble will be seen to be coming in threes.

The exposure by the BBC and the Telegraph last week of improper lobbying by an MP was immediately followed by the Daily Mail uncovering two Labour peers and an Ulster Unionist peer accepting offers of money in exchange for parliamentary services  from undercover journalists posing as lobbyists. The peers were filmed separately and the sound recordings suggest breaches of lobbying rules.  It seems too early in the year to be thinking of gifts, carols and “lords a leaping”.  All deny acting  improperly.

The peers have resigned their party whips to avoid embarrassing their respective parties. But the implications for the members of the House of Lords are much less than for members in the Commons.  An MP may avoid an immediate by election but of course can only stay beyond the next election if reelected. By contrast,  peers have a “job for life”.  As illustrated by Lord Archer, a peer remains entitled to sit in the Lords regardless of police charges, court proceedings, criminal convictions, and a sentence of imprisonment.

Proposals from time to time to modernize entitlements for peers have never had sufficient traction and cross party support to be enacted.

The Deputy Prime Minister wrote in the Telegraph yesterday that “… the allegations of sleaze were … indicative of a wider problem. .. Westminster remains a place where power is hoarded, decisions are opaque, and the people who take those decisions are not properly held to account. Our political system has long been crying out for head-to-toe reform…”

The Liberal-Democrat Party is wanting legislation empowering electorates to recall misbehaving MPs as well as a statutory register of lobbyists. If MPs were to be recalled the party could decide whether to withdraw endorsement, forcing them to fight a by election without party support,  if they wish to retain their seat.

Nick Clegg  as the party’s parliamentary leader fears that the power of recall could lead to “kangaroo courts” which would be “corrosive for our democracy”. It is unlikely that the majority of MPs would agree anyhow to the proposed change anyhow.