Equal Access to Justice in the USA an Unfinished Task, says World Justice Project

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New report released this week shows USA ranking 22nd—below Botswana, Chile and Uruguay—in delivering civil justice

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These findings suggest that no progress has been made to bridge the gap between rich and poor in access to the legal system and to guarantee equal treatment for ethnic minorities.

The USA continues to lag behind two-thirds of wealthy nations as well as some middle-income countries such as Botswana, Chile and Uruguay, in delivering civil justice, according to the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2012 report.

These findings suggest that no progress has been made to bridge the gap between rich and poor in access to the legal system and to guarantee equal treatment for ethnic minorities, despite the Obama Administration’s overarching initiative launched in February 2010. In the area of criminal justice the USA ranks 26th among 97 countries (and 24 out of 29 wealthy nations). In civil justice it ranks 22nd overall and 19th among high income peers. Strengths in checks and balances, free speech and other areas were also found.

Released this week in Washington, D.C., the report ranks countries across eight areas impacting on the rule of law: limits on government power, corruption, security, fundamental rights, open government, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. The report is the product of interviewing 97,000 members of the general public and more than 2,500 experts in 97 countries.

According to the report, “The United States performs well in most dimensions of the rule of law. The country has a well-functioning system of checks and balances (ranking seventeenth) and scores well in respect for fundamental rights, including the rights of association, opinion and expression, religion, and petition. The civil justice system is independent and free of undue influence, but it lags behind in providing access to disadvantaged groups. Legal assistance is frequently expensive or unavailable, and the gap between rich and poor individuals in terms of both actual use of and satisfaction with the civil court system is significant. In addition, there is a perception that ethnic minorities and foreigners receive unequal treatment.”

The Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway lead the Western Europe & North America region in most dimensions of the rule of law, followed by The Netherlands, Austria and Germany.

“Achieving the rule of law is a constant challenge and a work in progress in all countries. The WJP’s Rule of Law Index is not designed to shame or blame, but to provide useful reference points for countries in the same regions, with comparable legal cultures and similar income levels,” said World Justice Project founder William H. Neukom.

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About the World Justice Project:
The World Justice Project (WJP) is an independent, non-profit organization working to advance the rule of law for the development of communities of opportunity and equity worldwide. Its work is carried out through three complementary programs: Mainstreaming the rule of law including the convening of the World Justice Forum; the Rule of Law Index; and Research. The WJP’s multinational, multidisciplinary efforts are dedicated to stimulating government reforms, developing practical programs at the community level, and increasing public awareness about the concept and practice of the rule of law. For more information about the World Justice Project, please visit http://www.worldjusticeproject.org.

About the WJP Rule of Law Index®:
The WJP Rule of Law Index is a quantitative assessment tool designed by the World Justice Project to annually measure countries’ adherence to the rule of law as it is experienced by ordinary citizens, and to track changes across time. The WJP Rule of Law Index 2012 report is the third in an annual series. The full report is available at http://www.worldjusticeproject.org.

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