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Inherited legal systems and effective rule of law: Africa and the colonial legacy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 February 2002

Sandra Fullerton Joireman
Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187, USA. Thanks go to Shannon Hacker and Matt Jwayad for research assistance. I am grateful to Christopher Clapham, Pierre Englebert, Joel Horowitz, Susanna Wing, a reviewer for this journal who gave a particularly insightful set of comments, and the multitude of people who have given me comments as I have presented this paper. All of the faults of the paper, including the recklessness of the topic, are my own.


The question of whether particular types of legal institutions influence the effectiveness of the rule of law has long been answered with conjecture. Common law lawyers and judges tend to believe that the common law system is superior. This opinion is based on the idea that the common law system inherited from the British is more able to protect the rights of the individual than civil law judicial systems. Quite the opposite point of view can be found in lawyers from civil law countries, who may view the common law system as capricious and disorganised. This paper compares the effectiveness of the rule of law in common law and civil law countries in Africa, through a cross-national statistical comparison using Freedom House and Political Risk Services data. The comparison reveals that common law countries in Africa are generally better at providing ‘rule of law’ than are civil law countries.

Research Article
© 2001 Cambridge University Press

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