From the United States to the Philippines to the International Criminal Court, criminal justice is making headlines around the world. In the final days of 2018, the U.S. Congress passed a sweeping reform aimed at making vast improvements to the country’s criminal justice system. The International Criminal Court has recently opened an inquiry into Myanmar’s alleged crimes against the Rohingya. And new reports indicate that pretrial detention detainees in the Philippines face severe overcrowding and long waits before ever being seen by a judge.

An effective criminal justice system is an essential component of the rule of law, as it functions to reduce crime and provide reparations for victims. In particular, the procedural apparatus of a criminal justice system that upholds the rule of law must be fair, impartial, and respectful of the human rights of those involved—for both victims and for the accused.

The WJP Rule of Law Index evaluates criminal justice systems around the world.1  Although these systems can be difficult to evaluate comparatively due to significant differences between criminal legal systems, WJP’s survey of general populations as well as experts focuses on citizen perceptions and experiences. This comparable data helps civil society organizations, policy makers, and governments to understand, through the eyes of citizens, whether criminal justice systems are performing their stated goals adequately.

As criminal justice pops up in headlines around the world, we take a look at what WJP Rule of Law Index data tells us about how these criminal justice systems compare.

Criminal Justice Performance Declines Around the World

Around the world last year, more countries’ criminal justice performance declined than improved or stayed the same. (See chart: “Factor 8: Criminal Justice”)


The chart above indicates that in 65 out of 113 countries, citizens believe that the criminal justice system in their country demonstrated lower adherence to the rule of law than in the previous year.

Key Regions: East Asia & Pacific and the European Union, European Free Trade Association, & North America 

The two regions that saw the greatest number of countries decrease in their Factor 8 – Criminal Justice score, in addition to some of the largest declines in any region, were East Asia & the Pacific (EAP) and the European Union, European Free Trade Association, & North America (EURNA).

  • In EAP, where the average Factor 8 score is 0.54, 12 countries declined, whereas only 3 countries improved their score. The regional average saw a decline of 0.01.1
  • In EURNA, where the average Factor 8 score is 0.67, 15 countries declined, whereas 9 countries improved their score. This region experienced the greatest regional average decline, dropping by 0.02.1

Criminal Judicial Processes

Declines within the EAP and EURNA regions were driven by decreases in two criminal justice sub-factor scores, specifically those which evaluate the criminal justice process. 

The protection of legal rights for victims and the accused, and the timeliness and effectiveness of the adjudication process—as measured by sub-factor 8.7 and 8.2 respectively—evaluate the strength of the process mechanisms on which the criminal justice system is built. Criminal adjudication process scores (sub-factor 8.2) declined in 14 out of 24 countries within the EURNA region and in 10 out of 15 countries within the EAP region. (See charts: "Sub-Factor 8.2: Criminal Adjudication System is Timely and Effective")





WJP Rule of Law Index data also show that due process protection scores (sub-factor 8.7) declined in 13 out of 24 countries within the EURNA region and in 8 out of 15 countries within the EAP region. (See charts: "Sub-Factor 8.7: Due Process of the Law and Rights of the Accused")





In response to WJP’s findings, Christopher Lehman, Executive Director of the CEELI Institute, points out, “populism is currently disrupting criminal justice systems in Europe, specifically within the central and eastern European region. Governments increasingly demonize the judiciary and this external pressure interferes with judicial independence. In some cases it makes the judiciary less willing to do what is necessary to protect the rights of defendants, to fully ensure access to justice, and it often results in the judiciary’s self-censoring.”

WJP data shows that an increasing number of citizens globally, and especially within the EAP and EURNA regions, believe that the criminal justice process has worsened—a dangerous shift that must be addressed by governments, civil society, and the global justice and rule of law community. New data on the performance of criminal justice systems around the world will be made available on February 28th with the release of the WJP Rule of Law Index 2019.   

1The Index measures rule of law performance across 8 factors and 44 sub-factors in 113 countries. Country scores are scaled from 0.00 to 1.00, with 1.00 representing the strongest adherence to the rule of law.

Advancing fairness, impartiality, and respect for human rights in criminal justice systems will be a featured topic at the upcoming World Justice Forum VI: Realizing Justice for All, which will be held in The Hague from April 29-May 2, 2019. Learn more and register to participate here


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