home News Access to the Civil Justice System in Canada is a Concern According to Data from the 2016 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index

Access to the Civil Justice System in Canada is a Concern According to Data from the 2016 World Justice Project Rule of Law Index

According to the most recent World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, Canada ranks twelfth overall out of 113 countries included in the survey. Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands rank first to fifth, respectively. Canada’s overall index score of 0.81 is tied with the UK and Australia. The US ranks eighteenth overall. Ranking twelfth out of 113 puts Canada near the top of the global ranking. Canada ranks ninth out of twenty-four European and North American countries and twelfth out of thirty-six high income countries, thus above the median in these two more comparable groups of countries.


The overall Rule of Law Index is a composite of nine separate indexes. The eight on which Canada is ranked are shown in the table below, with each one consisting of several indicators. Canada is not ranked on Informal Justice. The rule of law measures for Canada are derived from an online survey of individuals in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver as well as qualitative data gathered in interviews with Canadian academics and legal practitioners. The Index, published every year since 2008, provides a valuable basis for examining changes over time in Canada (although some of the measures themselves have changed) and, is also a basis for comparison with other countries. By pointing to broadly similar countries that score better on rule of law measures, the survey directs us to possible comparative research that might provide ideas about how improvements might be brought about in Canada.


Rule of Law Measures Global Rank and Score

for Canada

Country Ranking First and Score
Constraints on Government Powers 10th (0.84) Denmark (0.93)
Absence of Corruption 11th (0.83) Denmark (0.96)
Open Government 9th (0.80) Norway (0.87)
Fundamental Rights 9th (0.82) Denmark (0.92)
Order and Security 6th (0.91) Singapore (0.93)
Regulatory Enforcement 13th (0.79) Singapore (0.90)
Civil Justice 19th (0.72) Netherlands (0.88)
Criminal Justice 15th (0.74) Finland (0.85)


The accessibility of the civil justice system is an aspect of rule of law on which Canada scores relatively poorly, in comparison with other measures for Canada and with other countries. The table below shows how Canada scored on the seven component indicators of the civil justice measure. Because the Netherlands ranked highest overall, the Dutch scores are shown for comparison.


Indicators Making Up the Civil Justice Measure Canada Score Netherlands Score
Accessibility and affordability 0.56 0.78
Absence of discrimination 0.65 0.92
Absence of corruption 0.88 0.94
Absence of improper government influence 0.89 0.95
Absence of unreasonable delay 0.53 0.83
Effective enforcement 0.73 0.88
Impartial and effective ADR 0.82 0.83

According to these data, accessibility and affordability of civil justice and unreasonable delays are the most pressing problems for access to the civil justice system. Over the last five years Canada has remained relatively the same in terms of access to civil justice. According to the 2012 World Justice Project data Canada’s score on civil justice was 0.72. It remained at 0.72 in 2013 and 2014, falling slightly to 0.70 in 2015. Canada’s overall rank on civil justice in 2016 was 0.72. In each of the last five years, accessibility and unreasonable delay received the lowest scores. While being wary of assigning an unwarranted degree of artificial precision to these numbers, clearly access to civil justice has been a persistent problem. We should look to other countries that seem to be doing better on these measures. The more comprehensive legal aid system and the famed Rechtwijzer online dispute resolution system in the Netherlands are examples of where to look.


The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) is a national non-profit organization, located at Osgoode Hall Law School, that is dedicated to advancing civil justice reform through research and advocacy.

This article was written by Canadian Forum on Civil Justice Senior Research Fellow, Ab Currie, Ph.D., and originally appeared on slaw.ca.