Legal certainty held in esteem

PHOTO: PantherMedia / Scanpix

Estonia occupies 14th place among 113 countries in the World Justice Project's recent Rule of Law Index published last week. The pack is led by four Nordic countries: Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, while other countries ahead of Estonia all sport a far higher standard of living than the Baltic Sea country.

The index ranks countries based on a general score ranging from zero to one. Denmark scored the highest marks at 0.89 points. Estonia's score was 0.79. Of our closest neighbors, both Finland and Sweden scored 0.87, while Russia's score was 0,45. The index does not rank Latvia and Lithuania.

Stable performance

In addition to the general score, Estonia has been evaluated in eight areas that sport an additional 44 subtopics. We are predictably the most successful in terms of open governance where Estonia managed eight place (0.81 points). Things are poorest in the field of criminal justice, where we occupy 19th position (0.70). Inefficiency of criminal investigation is considered Estonia's weakest point (0.57).

Estonia earns highest marks in terms of military conflict where total absence of the latter equals a perfect score of one. The second best result comes from perceived lack of corruption in the judicial system – 0.93 points. That said, the country only scored 0.56 in terms of perception of lack of corruption on the legislative level.

Head of the Estonian Human Rights Center, Kari Käsper, who participated in the index's survey, said that the rankings should not be taken too seriously. “It is a measure of perceived situation, which means the index might not reflect the actual situation: it is possible that people are not aware of a lot of problems or that they have been hidden from experts,” he explained.

Käsper said that Estonia's good result shows we have reason to be proud of many things. “That we are not at war, that there is not too much corruption, that our judges are not for sale or puppets of the government, that policemen do not torture people or make unsuitable individuals disappear or lock them up for unspecified periods of time without a trial,” he reckoned.

Käsper added that the index frankly shows that Estonia is generally an open country sporting transparent governance also compared to countries with far longer democratic traditions.

When asked what should Estonia do to make it to the top of the index, Käsper said that the country should probably give up on the notion that these kinds of rankings are somehow decisive. “Rather it should proceed more from what works and yields results in the fields of governance and administration of justice, and make efforts toward better ensuring everyone's basic rights,” Käsper said.

Director of the Law Institute of the Tallinn University of Technology, professor Tanel Kerikmäe, who also participated in the study, pointed out that methodology needs to be kept in mind when interpreting the results. “Experts have been given the chance to freely deliver assessments without providing reasoning. The results do not show with one hundred percent certainty whether we have problems or not,” he said.

Kerikmäe added, however, that the fact Estonia has consistently occupied 14-15 place speaks to a measure of stability. “These specialists represent a certain group that changes from year to year. This stability shows we have no great fluctuations in terms of rule of law. We are a small country with small problems,” he said.

Proper sample

The survey questioned nearly 111,000 people in 113 countries and 2,700 legal experts. An online survey was used to question 800 people and 12 experts in Estonia. Other experts were consulted but were not willing to published their names; the latter option was offered to encourage experts of undemocratic countries to give answers.

Experts who participated in the survey under their own names included, in addition to Käsper and Kerikmäe, Aare Märtson, Andres Parmas, Andres Vutt, Anneli Soo, Birgit Sisask, Gaabriel Tavits, Kaja Põlluste, Maksim, Greinoman, Margit Vutt, and Merle Erikson.

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