The justice sector includes the criminal and civil justice systems; the formal and informal mechanisms of dispute resolution; and a broad range of institutions and actors, including the police, the courts, prosecutors, social workers, prison officials, community leaders, paralegals, traditional councils and other local arbitrators.
While justice institutions in all countries carry out some tasks, great differences exist between countries as well. Two important dimensions often included in an assessment of the justice sector are legal empowerment of the poor and issues related to justice and security sector reform.
In many parts of the world, most criminal and civil disputes are resolved without ever contacting the police or formal court system. Therefore, informal and traditional justice sector indicators also are needed to complement indicators for the formal justice system.
Furthermore, many justice measures are quantitative in nature, for example, the number of police officers working in a city, the number of crimes reported, time taken to try a case, or prison populations. These measures provide information that is important to assess the work of different parts of a justice system. Nonetheless, the conventional quantitative approach to measurement is problematic when it comes to helping justice systems better serve the poor and vulnerable. Quantitative indicators are often based on administrative databases used to organize systems or manage resources, which do not reveal much about the quality or experience of justice.
Surveys can be an especially important information source, for two reasons. First, they provide an opportunity to collect information on users and potential users of the justice system. Such surveys need to be carefully designed, however, to ensure that they capture the experiences of the most vulnerable, such as women, those who do not have access to a telephone, illegal or unregistered residents, rural residents, or those who do not speak the dominant language. Second, surveys also provide a mechanism to assess the gap of official versus actual justice sector performance.