The World Justice Project (WJP) 2012-2013 Report recently assessed 97 countries in terms of Rule of Law, which the WJP defines as “the underlying framework and rights that make prosperous and fair societies possible… where laws protect fundamental rights, and where justice is accessible for all”. Its definition includes four universal principles:
- The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
- The laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
- The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient.
- Justice is delivered by competent, ethical and independent representatives and neutrals, who are sufficient in number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
The WJP looks at eight “rule of law” factors: limited government powers, absence of corruption, order and security, fundamental rights, open government, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. Rather than attempt to combine all these factors into one rule of law index, the WJP looks at each factor separately. National scores on each factor are developed by surveying 1000 respondents in each country, as well as collecting questionnaires from in-country experts. This post looks at criminal justice; future posts will look at other rule of law factors.
Mexico scored particularly poorly with respect to “Criminal Justice” which the WJP defines as “a key aspect of the rule of law, as it constitutes the natural mechanism to redress grievances and bring action against individuals for offenses against society. An effective criminal justice system is capable of investigating and adjudicating criminal offences effectively, impartially, and without improper influence, while ensuring that the rights of suspects and victims are protected.”
According to the WJP report, Mexico’s criminal justice system ranks a very low 89st of 97 countries. It was 13th of 16 Latin American countries, and 29th of 30 middle income countries. These very low ranks are startling, given Mexico’s relatively high marks on most development indicators. Mexico even ranked below such economically poor countries as Pakistan (80th), Guatemala (84th), Egypt (56th), Ethiopia (49th), Senegal (54th) and Tanzania (47th) as well as behind Brazil (52nd), Russia (75th), India (64th) and China (39th). By way of comparison, Denmark ranked 1st, Canada 13th , Botswana 18th, and the USA 27th.
In assessing criminal justice, the WJP uses seven subfactors (with Mexico’s rank among the 97 countries):
- criminal investigation system is effective (77th of 97),
- criminal adjudication system is timely and effective (84th),
- correctional system is effective in reducing criminal behavior (85th),
- criminal justice system is impartial (89th),
- criminal justice system is free of corruption (87th),
- criminal justice system is free of improper government influence (57th),
- due process of law and rights of the accused (78th).
Mexico ranked behind Brazil, China, India and Russia on all seven of these subfactors with only a couple of exceptions. China ranked 97th (dead last) and Russia ranked 80th in “criminal justice system is free of improper government influence.” Also Russia ranked behind Mexico at 84th in “due process of law and rights of the accused.”
These really poor ranks indicate that virtually all aspects of the Mexican criminal justice system are in dire need of reform and improvement. Fortunately, reform is on the way. “Judicial Reform in Mexico,” (published by the Trans-Border Institute of the University of San Diego in May 2010) summarizes the four main elements of Mexico’s Judicial Reform Law, approved by Congress in 2008, as:
- new oral, open to the public, adversarial procedures
- presumption of innocence and adequate legal defense for all accused
- modification of police and investigatory procedures
- tougher measures for combating organized crime
The reforms are scheduled for implementation by 2016, but may take a bit longer.
Some states, like Chihuahua, State of México, Morelos, Oaxaca, Nuevo León and Zacatecas, have already started implementing reforms, but some other states are lagging well behind. Full implementation of all the much needed judicial reforms will take many years, perhaps decades. On the bright side, at least reforms are in the process of being implemented.