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Identity and influence – what does the Rule of Law mean for Britain and its international standing?

Posted on 19 January 2023

Access the report here

What does the Rule of Law mean to most people? Can a better understanding of the Rule of Law, our constitutional bedrock, engender a deeper sense of Britishness and help mend a fracturing Union? How have external perceptions of Britain's institutional cohesion enhanced our political and economic standing in the World? What are the risks to the UK, domestically and internationally, of atrophying legal institutions?

In Identity and Influence, the third of a series of reports sponsored by Mishcon de Reya, The Social Market Foundation explores these questions and considers how a failure to address the parlous state of our justice system could have significant social, economic and political implications for Britain and for Britain's international standing.

The report, which draws on new polling about national identity and the outputs from an expert roundtable with leading figures in the law, politics and academia, found that:

  • Policymakers have not been careful about protecting and nurturing the Rule of Law and its underpinning elements.
  • A clearer and stronger definition of the Rule of Law might be able to play a role in boosting the UK’s institutional cohesion and subsequently help make the Rule of Law a more prominent factor in "Britishness".
  • Whilst 74% of UK citizens agree that adherence to the Rule of Law is "essential" for a successful economy, only 51% of them consider that the law is enforced equally across all individuals and classes in the UK.
  • This lack of confidence likely reflects failings in our legal institutions: individuals face a significant “civil justice gap”; the criminal justice system is not fit for purpose; and few businesses find the court system an effective way to resolve disputes.
  • From an international perspective, the UK has considerable soft power in global affairs. International polling for the British Council supports the contention that the UK’s public institutions, such as its legal system, are important factors that contribute to the UK being seen as a “highly trusted” country by people in other G20 countries. Meanwhile, business trust and confidence is typically a driver of inward investment and international trade. 
  • However, the World Justice Project shows that the UK is not ranked in the top ten in any of four categories measuring perceptions of a nation’s commitment to the Rule of Law.
  • As domestic and international perceptions of the “civil justice gap”, court backlogs and poor crime detection and prosecution grow, narratives about the strength of adherence to the Rule of Law in the UK will start to change.

The report recommends the following measures to help improve Britain's institutional cohesion and domestic and international perceptions of our adherence to the Rule of Law:

  • The Government should begin a consultation process on a UK-wide definition of the Rule of Law.
  • Citizenship teaching in UK schools should be reinvigorated with lessons embedding understanding of and respect for the Rule of Law.
  • The “civil justice gap” should be reduced by implementing the court modernisation programme, improving access to courts for individuals, families and businesses and making the civil justice system world leading by 2030.
  • The modernisation programme for the criminal justice system is also essential, to increase the efficacy and efficiency of the criminal courts so that they too are world-leading by 2030. 

Access the report here

The Social Market Foundation's previous reports in this trilogy can be found here:

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