Notes on World Justice Forum V
Seth A. Davis, Section Chair
I was proud to represent SEER, along with Past Chairs Lee DeHihns and Claudia Rast, at the fifth World Justice Forum in The Hague, Holland, July 10-13.
This Forum was the fifth such event organized by the World Justice Project, an independent, multidisciplinary organization that works to advance the rule of law worldwide. SEER has been an active supporter of the Project, and has participated in all of the forums to date. In addition to Lee and Claudia, those active in past forums have included Past Chairs Sheila Hollis and Alex Dunn, and section members Howard Kenison and Roger Martella.
A major achievement of the World Justice Project has been the development and publication of an international Rule of Law Index, in which each country is rated by independent practitioners and juridical experts on its actual achievement of the goals of the rule of law. This index should serve as an eye-opener and call to action for all American lawyers, since the U.S. ranks merely 18th in the world in the latest index.
Several years ago, SEER representatives urged the development of an Environmental Rule of Law Index, that would measure achievement of rule of law goals in the environmental area. Over the past several years, a SEER team led most recently by Alex Dunn has been working along with World Justice Project staff in developing a very detailed questionnaire, and in conducting an initial evaluation of five different countries. The questionnaire and the pilot results were presented publicly for the first time in The Hague by our panel, which also included a detailed explanation of the Environmental Index by World Justice Project staff members Sarah Long and Christine Pratt, and Steve Wolfson of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The audience reaction was very positive, with several suggestions for improving the index. We received particular praise from a number of past ABA presidents and senior lawyers from many different countries.
As a whole, the entire Forum was a marvelous experience, at which we heard presentations on a variety of themes related to international rule of law, and during which we got to meet an amazing array of legal talent and concerned individuals from every part of the world. By my count there were supreme court justices present from 7 different countries!
We began with a tour of the new Dutch Supreme Court building, at which we met with two members of that high court, including the Chief Justice. The building, only a couple of years old, very successfully combines modern, light-admitting architecture with a traditional respect for justice. One does not, in fact, have to have dark oak paneling in a courtroom in order to summon respect.
The opening plenary session featured an appearance by our own Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was interviewed by her former clerk, Stanford Law School Dean Elizabeth Magill. Justice Ginsburg typically steered clear of matters of controversy within the United States, but she did wistfully point out that both she and Justice Scalia had been confirmed with very few opposing votes, and hoped that such a spirit might return again.
Other program highlights included a panel on data-driven criminal justice reform featuring Barry Scheck and Vikrant Reddy—polar political opposites allied on issues of criminal justice, and a panel on “The Importance of Credible, Independent Reporting in a Polarized Political Climate.” This latter panel was chaired by Ethan Bronner, who graduated from the same very small college program in western literature, history and philosophy as did I. Ethan has had a distinguished career with the New York Times, covering, among other areas, Israel, education, and legal issues, and winning a Pulitzer Prize. He is now a senior editor at Bloomberg News.
SEER also had a presence in the “Working Sessions” in which various substantive areas were identified and attendees were encouraged to develop focused “projects” for presentation before the plenary session on the last day. Claudia Rast was asked to facilitate the Environmental Justice for which the winning program idea came from Monica Tanuhandaru from Indonesia. Her idea revolved around the education of local women's organizations to educate villagers regarding their basic environment, health, and safety rights. Her NGO has collected baseline data and would use the seed money for the educational implementation.
Between sessions and during networking breaks, we staffed our SEER “table,” answering questions, displaying and handing out copies of NR&E, and distributing our SEER business cards.
A real highlight was the screening of the Mexican documentary “Presumed Guilty,” which chronicles how an incredible, but not atypical, miscarriage of justice was righted by diligent investigatory and legal efforts. The film is not available commercially, but you can see it on YouTube, and I urge everyone to do so.
The conference closed with the presentation of 10 different proposals from the Working Sessions to further justice in different parts of the world. Each one was presented by a young attendee, and each was tremendously impressive. The audience voted for a winner, who received a grant of $10,000 from the World Justice Project. The project? Working towards prevention of the traditional practice of kidnapping brides in Kyrgyzstan. (And you think YOU’ve got problems…)
It was an honor to participate in the Forum. I am proud that SEER has been a promoter of the World Justice Project from its inception, and proud that our efforts have been successful and are now being recognized.