The 2018 Rule of Law Index, released by the World Justice Project (WJP), measures adherence to the rule of law in 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide. Based on more than 110 000 household and 3 000 expert surveys, the index uses eight factors – Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice – to assess rule of law as it is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations by the general public worldwide.

The previous report was published in 2016 and, says WJP, the majority of countries assessed had their scores decline in the areas of human rights, checks on government powers, and civil and criminal justice. In addition, more countries’ overall rule of law score declined (34%) than improved (29%) as compared to their 2016 Index scores—a troubling trend, while 37% of countries’ overall rule of law score remained the same.

The Fundamental Rights factor declined the most, with 71 countries out of 113 getting a lower score than last year. This factor measures absence of discrimination, right to life and security, due process, freedom of expression and religion, right to privacy, freedom of association, and labour rights.

The second greatest decline was seen in the factor Constraints on Government Powers, where 64 of the 133 countries dropped. This factor measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law.

South Africa achieved a ranking of 44 overall, dropping one position from 43 in the 2016 index, while the country’s score of 0.59 was unchanged from the 2016 index. In 2016 the country topped the regional table.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana led the region, taking 43rd place globally. Among the 18 sub-Saharan countries indexed, Burkina Faso and Kenya improved the most, climbing nine and five spots respectively in the global rankings. The country with the biggest decline in rank was Madagascar, which dropped eight spots.

Burkina Faso, with Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, showed the biggest improvement in overall rank, each improving by nine positions over their 2016 ranking.

Overall, the region showed the most improvements in Absence of Corruption, with four countries experiencing upward trends in this factor and none showing downward trends.

The top three overall performers in this year’s Rule of Law index were Denmark (1), Norway (2), and Finland (3); the bottom three were Afghanistan (111), Cambodia (112), and Venezuela (113). The top three and bottom three performing countries have not changed since the 2016 index.

Factors and indicators

Performance is measured using 44 indicators across eight primary rule of law factors, each of which is scored and ranked globally and against regional and income peers.

Data for each indicator within a factor is gathered through a series of questions, conducted either face-to-face or orally. The indicators are scored between 0 and 1, where 0 signifies no rule of law and 1 signifies best rule of law.

South Africa’s scores are in brackets beside each factor and indicator below. The country scored highest in Fundamental Rights and lowest in Civil Justice.

Constraints on Government Powers (0.61)

  • Government powers are effectively limited by the legislature (0.54)
  • Government powers are effectively limited by the judiciary (0.66)
  • Government powers are effectively limited by independent auditing and review (0.64)
  • Government officials are sanctioned for misconduct (0.48)
  • Government powers are subject to non-governmental checks (0.67)
  • Transition of power is subject to the law (0.70)

Absence of Corruption (0.53)

  • Government officials in the executive branch do not use public office for private gain (0.47)
  • Government officials in the judicial branch do not use public office for private gain (0.72)
  • Government officials in the police and the military do not use public office for private gain (0.59)
  • Government officials in the legislative branch do not use public office for private gain (0.35)

Open Government (0.62)

  • Publicised laws and government data (0.54)
  • Right to information (0.58)
  • Civic participation (0.65)
  • Complaint mechanisms (0.72)

Fundamental Rights (0.63)

  • Equal treatment and absence of discrimination (0.52)
  • The right to life and security of the person is effectively guaranteed (0.66)
  • Due process of law and rights of the accused (0.53)
  • Freedom of opinion and expression is effectively guaranteed (0.67)
  • Freedom of belief and religion is effectively guaranteed (0.76)
  • Freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy is effectively guaranteed (0.57)
  • Freedom of assembly and association is effectively guaranteed (0.73)
  • Fundamental labour rights are effectively guaranteed (0.62)

Order and Security (0.62)

  • Crime is effectively controlled (0.49)
  • Civil conflict is effectively limited (1.00)
  • People do not resort to violence to redress personal grievances (0.38)

Regulatory Enforcement (0.55)

  • Government regulations are effectively enforced (0.45)
  • Government regulations are applied and enforced without improper influence (0.62)
  • Administrative proceedings are conducted without unreasonable delay (0.44)
  • Due process is respected in administrative proceedings (0.57)
  • The government does not expropriate without adequate compensation (0.65)

Civil Justice (0.61)

  • People can access and afford civil justice (0.46)
  • Civil justice is free of discrimination (0.48)
  • Civil justice is free of corruption (0.70)
  • Civil justice is free of improper government influence (0.65)
  • Civil justice is not subject to unreasonable delays (0.54)
  • Civil justice is effectively enforced (0.65)
  • Alternative dispute resolution is accessible, impartial, and effective (0.77)

Criminal Justice (0.52)

  • Criminal investigation system is effective (0.42)
  • Criminal adjudication system is timely and effective (0.52)
  • Correctional system is effective in reducing criminal behaviour (0.32)
  • Criminal justice system is impartial (0.52)
  • Criminal justice system is free of corruption (0.65)
  • Criminal justice system is free of improper government influence (0.69)
  • Due process of law and rights of the accused (0.53)

Informal justice

Informal justice concerns the role played in many countries by customary and ‘informal’ systems of justice – including traditional, tribal, and religious courts, and community-based systems – in resolving disputes.

It is not included in the Rule of Law Index because, says WJP, the complexities of these systems and the difficulties of measuring their fairness and effectiveness in a manner that is both systematic and comparable across countries, make assessments extraordinarily challenging.