Judicial Systems and Authoritarian Transitions

Publication Year : 2006

For several decades, development policy specialists and donor agencies have championed investment in the judicial systems of developing countries to promote economic growth and, eventually, democracy. The assumption of a causal link among these three phenomena motivates donors’ investments in the physical and human capacity of the legal system. Some reforms are narrowly focused—better enforcement of property rights and contract law—conducive to enhanced trade and investment. Although these narrow reform programs imply that political liberalisation is an ultimate objective, studies are unable to substantiate causality between the rule of law, economic growth and democracy [Carothers (2003)]. Autocratic regimes may establish courts to protect the property rights of regime insiders and to expropriate the rights of outsiders. In our view a rule of law will have emerged only once the state has achieved legitimacy in the hearts and minds of citizens. The idea that better rule of law would generate economic growth, which would in turn build constituencies for democratic reforms will be questioned in this paper. An alternative view will be suggested, most notably the alignment of national identity with the institutions of the state is critical to establishing a rule of law.