Comparing justice systems in different countries is understandably difficult, but it’s something that the World Justice Project has tried to do for the past decade, through its annual Rule of Law Index. ARAG CEO Jo-Anne MacDonald takes a closer look at this year’s report to see how Canada fares.
I’m sure most Canadians would like to think we live in a just society where, with the exception of occasional injustices, citizens are treated fairly. But how does Canada measure up against the rest of the world?
As well as open, accountable government and just laws, the near 200-page annual Rule of Law Index report scores access to justice that is affordable and timely, delivered by competent, impartial and adequately resourced representatives.
The good news is that, overall, Canada does very well.
We rank 9th of 126 nations indexed in the report among the cluster of northern European countries and New Zealand (8th), that make up the top 10. It’s also comforting to see that neither our score nor our rank have dropped, at a time when justice seems to be falling back, globally.
For the second year in succession, the index has seen an overall decline in more countries than have seen improvement. Worryingly, other countries against which we might benchmark ourselves, such as the UK (12th) and the United States (20th), have seen both their overall score and rank fall.
However, digging a little deeper into the detail, it is clear that Canada scores higher on some metrics than others.
In most areas, from ‘Fundamental Rights’ and ‘Constraints on Government Powers’ to ‘Absence of Corruption’ and ‘Regulatory Enforcement’, Canada ranks 8th, 9th or 10th in the world, consistently outscoring both regional (Europe and North America) and global averages. However, in the field of ‘Civil Justice’ Canada’s rank drops to 20.
One unfortunate reason is clearly discrimination, which similarly scores 20-30 points lower than other metrics in the ‘Fundamental Rights’ and ‘Criminal Justice’ sections, too. This should not come as a complete surprise as discrimination in our justice system has been well-documented, but it is certainly one of the reasons that Canada lags behind countries like the Netherlands (5th overall) and Germany (6th).
The other areas that really let Canada down concern delays in our civil justice system and its ‘Accessibility and affordability’. This is also unlikely to prompt much surprise to anyone who has had to use it.
In short, our justice system is fair for most people, but it is expensive, slow and difficult to access.
This problem is not unique to Canada. Other relatively wealthy countries with well-functioning democracies and justice systems, such as the UK and Australia (11th), are also let down by the accessibility and affordability of their civil justice systems.
This is, at least in part, is why legal expenses insurance is such a growing market, not just here in Canada, but globally. The most recent (and incomplete) figures from legal protection companies around the world date back to 2016 and already showed a market that was producing about $15 billion in premium income, annually.
The number of jurisdictions in which legal expenses insurance is available to improve access to justice is also growing. ARAG launched operations in Australia and moved into the Irish legal expense insurance market this year and the total number of countries where some form of insurance against legal costs is available is now over 30.
Like education and health, justice is a vital but increasingly expensive benefit for governments to bestow upon their citizens. To the families and small businesses that face potential ruin through the simple misfortune of a costly legal dispute it can prove to be as important as insuring against fire, theft or flood.