How Best to Support the Rule of Law

May 17, 2013
by Doug Gavel

Attempts to develop a standardized methodology for measuring the effectiveness of entrepreneurial efforts to advance justice and civility across the world are "futile," but that does not preclude the desire to identify and cultivate best practices to support the rule of law. That was the message delivered April 8 by Harvard Kennedy School Adjunct Lecturer Todd Foglesong during a meeting on the topic convened by the United Nations Rule of Law Unit.

"It may be futile to gauge whether there is a net increase in the global quantum of rule of law as a result of the diligent but episodic efforts of the UN to advance a particular vision of the rule of law," Foglesong said. "Instead, I suggest, the UN should focus attention on what other people are doing to advance the rule of law – with or without foreign assistance – and then find ways to figure out if its work helps them advance their own notions of goodness, of the rule of law."

Foglesong referenced efforts by the Attorney General of Lagos to reduce the number of days it takes staff to determine whether or not to prosecute defendants being held in pretrial detention. He also pointed to the Director of Public Prosecution in Freetown, South Africa, where the timetable for issuing indictments in child rape cases has been cut in half.

"These officials and their counterparts all over the world know that justice, like the rule of law, has multiple values, each of which can, at times, compete with one another – for money, attention, political favor," Fogleson argued. "Their effort to reconcile these tensions in the course of administering criminal law and procedure is, in my view, the best possible expression of the spirit and substance of the rule of law."

Todd Foglesong is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at HKS and Senior Research Associate with the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ). He is also the Coordinator of the PCJ's annual Justice Systems Workshop. His research focuses on the use of arrest and pretrial detention around the world as well as the alignment of government efforts to administer criminal justice.

Todd Fogleson

Todd Fogleson, adjunct lecturer in public policy

"I suggest, the UN should focus attention on what other people are doing to advance the rule of law – with or without foreign assistance – and then find ways to figure out if its work helps them advance their own notions of goodness, of the rule of law."


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