S'pore slips 3 places in global rule of law rankings

Its 17th spot out of 139 territories comes amid declining scores globally amid Covid-19 issues

Singapore has slipped three places in a global ranking of rule of law and fallen outside the top three spots in the region for the first time since 2015.

This is based on an index compiled by the World Justice Project (WJP), an independent advocacy group founded in the United States.

The Republic's 17th position out of 139 territories worldwide - and fourth out of 15 in East Asia and the Pacific - comes amid declining rule of law scores across most of the globe, with the Covid-19 situation accentuating trends in weakening institutional checks and diminishing civic space.

Pandemic measures also contributed to delays and access issues in civil and criminal justice systems - areas where Singapore recorded dips in performance, according to the WJP report released yesterday.

Still, Singapore's performance has remained relatively stable over the years, with its overall score of 0.78 a 1 per cent drop from last year, and down from 0.81 in 2015.

The annual index measures how rule of law is experienced and perceived in practical, everyday situations across the world.

Performance is determined using 44 indicators across eight main rule-of-law factors, each scored and ranked globally and regionally.

The factors are constraints on government power, government openness, corruption, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, and criminal and civil justice systems.

Singapore was the world leader in order and security last year, but dropped to third this time. It fared worse in the areas of fundamental rights (38th), open government (34th) and constraints on government power (32nd), but was in the top 10 for the other factors.

This year, the top three global places for overall rule of law went to Denmark, Norway and Finland, while the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia and Venezuela rounded off the bottom.

Ratings are based on survey responses to over 500 questions, from more than 138,000 households and 4,200 legal practitioners and experts across 139 jurisdictions - up from 128 last year.

Regionally, Singapore finished third overall last year but was overtaken by Japan this year, with New Zealand the top performer followed by Australia.

The Philippines, Myanmar and Cambodia registered the lowest scores in the region. Singapore remained top of the regional table in five of the eight factors.

The WJP, which has offices in Singapore and Mexico, noted that, globally, 74.2 per cent of countries covered by its report - accounting for 84.7 per cent of the world's population - declined in their overall rule-of-law performance.

This was the fourth straight year where more countries deteriorated than improved.

WJP chief research officer Alejandro Ponce told The Straits Times: "In the majority of countries, the Covid-19 pandemic and the sanitary measures to contain it had a negative effect on the rule of law."

For instance, 94 per cent of countries in the index experienced delays in civil, criminal and administrative justice systems, along with problems of access.

Against a backdrop of lowered trust in governments, 82 per cent of the countries registered diminishing dimensions of civic space such as in freedom of opinion, expression and assembly; while 70 per cent reported weakened constraints on government powers.

The WJP warned that, taken together, these widespread trends signal an "opening of the door" to growing authoritarianism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore slips 3 places in global rule of law rankings'. Subscribe