Toward a rule of law culture: Exploring effective responses to justice and security challenges

Leanne McKay with Adewale Ajadi, Diane de Gramont, Hamid Khan, Rachel Kleinfeld, George Lopez, Tom Parker, and Colette Rausch


This guide lays out a rule of law culture approach to achieving a strong rule of law – an approach that places the human, social, historical, political, and power dynamics of a society at its core. Traditional approaches to promoting rule of law tend to prioritize the role of state institutions and adopt technical, law-led strategies. The rule of law culture approach, in contrast, recognizes that efforts to strengthen rule of law do not happen in a vacuum, but in a specific context of state and social institutions and of complex political, power, and human dynamics and interactions. The rule of law culture approach emphasizes the need to view the justice system holistically and to address identified weaknesses systematically. It requires the equal participation and engagement of both state officials and members of society, and acknowledges that enhancing rule of law is a process of change that must involve altering the assumptions, mind-sets, and behaviours of all people – officials and citizens alike.

The guide is the product of a two-year partnership between USIP and the US Department of State’s Bureau for Counterterrorism, during which USIP designed, developed, and piloted a foundation rule of law course for the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law. The courses primarily focused on countries in transition; however, the core messages in this guide are applicable across all contexts, and the practical examples provided draw on lessons from six continents. The target audience for this guide is mid- and senior-level justice sector stakeholders. These include government officials (such as lawmakers, prosecutors, judges, police, and corrections officials) and nongovernmental representatives (including defence lawyers, representatives of national human rights institutions and other oversight bodies, and members of civil society organizations).

The guide’s six chapters are designed to build on one another, first addressing the development of knowledge and skills, and then exploring how best to put them into practice:

  • Chapter 1 defines the rule of law and encourages readers to move beyond theoretical and abstract concepts, and to understand the rule of law in a way that protects basic rights and freedoms and resonates with the actual needs and desires of people within a specific context.
  • Chapter 2 encourages readers to consider the role they play in relation to the system and to recognize how the (in)actions of individuals and institutions in one part of the system can have significant repercussions elsewhere within the system and within society as a whole.
  • Chapter 3 examines the role of international norms and standards within the domestic legal system.
  • Chapter 4 provides readers with a series of analytical tools that can be applied to any rule of law challenge in order to devise contextually relevant and effective solutions.
  • Chapter 5 challenges the reader to consider how, in practical terms, he or she can contribute to creating a strengthened rule of law.
  • Chapter 6 examines the transformation of the Kenyan judiciary, and gives the reader the opportunity to analyze and critique the Kenyan approach, to learn lessons, to take inspiration, and to embrace his or her role as a rule of law promoter.


McKay, L. (with Ajadi, A., de Gramont, D., Khan, H., Kleinfeld, R., Lopez, G., Parker, T., & Rausch, C.). (2015). Toward a rule of law culture: Exploring effective responses to justice and security challenges. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.