Midyear Meeting 2008

ABA to Measure Rule of Law in Four Countries, Including U.S.

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Within the next few weeks, the ABA’s World Justice Project will start testing its theories of what defines the rule of law by sending fact-gathering teams to four countries, including the United States.

This field work will be the first effort by the project to test the feasibility of the rule of law index, a key element of the World Justice Project. The purpose of the index is to measure in some factual way how effective countries are in adhering to the rule of law, at least in terms of meeting certain criteria.

In addition to the United States, the field-testing of the rule of law index will take place in Chile, India and Nigeria, said ABA President William H. Neukom in a news conference held this afternoon during the association’s 2008 midyear meeting in Los Angeles. The World Justice Project is Neukom’s primary presidential initiative.

“We’re not in the ‘shame and blame game’ here,” said Neukom, of Seattle. “We don’t have a carrot and stick. We’re just gathering the facts.”

Neukom said the World Justice Project welcomes any participation from governments in the countries where the rule of law index is being tested, but emphasized that the fact-gathering will take place regardless of whether those governments cooperate. The field work will be conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City, which has conducted similar projects in the past and knows how to gather information even if there is no active government assistance, he said.

“It’s a public exercise,” Neukom said. “The governments will be aware that we’re there.”

Neukom said the four countries were selected for the initial field testing because they’re compatible with quick turnaround by the Vera Institute in its fact-gathering and they represent geographic diversity. He added that the project organizers felt that the United States should be included in the process early on.

The findings will be reviewed in early July when the ABA sponsors the World Justice Forum in Vienna, Austria.

Neukom, a partner in the Seattle office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, said the World Justice Project is based on the premise that adherence to certain rule of law principles are necessary for a community that offers opportunity and equity to its members through free and fair government. The index is an attempt to give that premise meaning on the basis of characteristics that measure a country’s adherence to rule of law principles of accountable government, recognition of fundamental individual rights, and the adoption and enforcement of fair laws.

Neukom said efforts to achieve rule of law must be a multi-disciplinary process. “It’s not the rule of lawyers,” he said. “It’s simply justice.”

Neukom noted that the ABA House of Delegates on Monday will consider a later report submitted by the New York State Bar Association expressing “support for and solidarity with the Pakistani bar and bench,” which has been under fire from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf since late last year.

In November, Neukom and other ABA leaders led more than 600 lawyers in a march and vigil expressing support for Pakistani lawyers who were detained or put under house arrest by the government.

Neukom said it was particularly important for the ABA to speak out in that situation, even though it generally does not address conditions in particular countries. “I think it was a sense of solidarity,” Neukom said. “Pakistan was such a clear example of changing rules in a material way.”

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