Evidence on establishment of the ‘rule of law’ through deliberate interventions (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report)

This study reviews a selection of recent or seminal evaluations of international interventions



To what extent can the ‘rule of law’ be established through deliberate interventions (domestic or international)? (Please look for evaluations of explicit rule-of-law interventions or significant domestic change processes, and see what evidence there is and how they have been successful).

Key findings

There is a lack of systematic evidence on whether and how the ‘rule of law’1 can be established through domestic or international interventions. Sage and Woolcock (2007) note a consensus among experts that rule of law reforms lack a sound theoretical and empirical basis. There is also limited literature on the relationship between domestic change processes and rule of law interventions. On-going initiatives to study the impact of legal empowerment and justice for the poor approaches may start to address this evidence gap.

This study reviews a selection of the recent (or seminal) evaluations of international interventions, and identifies the following key findings.

  •  Many evaluations on different types of rule of law reform programmes have found disappointing, limited or no impact on the establishment of rule of law by international interventions across donors, countries and sectors. Some evaluations have also found positive examples of successful interventions.
  • The same issues with the design and implementation of international rule of law interventions are reported across donors, countries and sectors. A common criticism is that rule of law reform does not take into account the importance of domestic political commitment to support the reforms.
  • Some innovative interventions and tools are identified as successful (at least in process and output terms). Examples include the use of paralegals; the lead or contributory role of NGOs, grassroots organisations or other community-based groups; the use of low-tech comic strips and easily available printed material to disseminate legal information; the use of qualified national consultants to develop the advisory work (and not just to gather and process data); and the integration of rule of law and social accountability initiatives.
  • A number of evaluations point out that short-term interventions are unlikely to lead to sustainable establishment of rule of law.
  • Some also point out that investment in the monitoring and evaluation of results is needed.

This report is organised in two sections: the first summarises the limitations of the evidence and the second provides examples of evaluations and reviews on interventions to support rule of law. The examples include (a) literature reviews; (b) evaluations of aid agency interventions; and (c) other country/thematic case studies.


Carter, B. Evidence on establishment of the ‘rule of law’ through deliberate interventions (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 15 pp.

Evidence on establishment of the ‘rule of law’ through deliberate interventions (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report)

Published 1 January 2013