The department for international development is not doing enough to improve safety in some of the world's poorest countries, according to the UK's aid watchdog.
In a report published today, the independent commission for aid impact (ICAI) finds that, despite being an "early champion" of efforts to bolster judicial and policing systems in countries including Libya, Nigeria and Ethiopia, Dfid's work has since "fallen into conventional patterns".
"While there are pockets of success, there is little sign that its institutional development work is leading to wider improvements in S&J outcomes for the poor," the report states.
Dfid's security and justice assistance work - which the commission says is an "increasingly important" part of the UK's aid programme - is aimed at strengthening the rule of law and improving governance in troubled regions, thereby helping to make aid more effective.
But the commission says the department's £95m expenditure on security and justice assistance is too often guided by an "assumption" that security can be achieved through formal legal institutions, rather than by tackling underlying social issues through "relatively modest" measures.
"Most of Dfid's S&J portfolio focuses on the strengthening of S&J institutions as its starting point, rather than the need to address specific problems of insecurity or injustice," the report warns. "In our view the portfolio would be strengthened by more attention to problem solving."
However, the report praises Dfid's work to tackle violence against women and girls as an example of where it has taken a "broad, multidisciplinary approach".
And it says the department has had some success where it has chosen to work with NGOs on smaller-scale efforts to help vulnerable people exercise their legal rights.
These include ensuring some 11,700 Bangladeshi children were rescued from dangerous working conditions, as well as efforts to secure the living wage or safer working conditions for workers in that country's poorly-paid shrimp and garment industries.
"We found that these legal empowerment activities were delivering more direct and tangible benefits for poor communities than Dfid's work with formal S&J institutions," the report adds.
The ICAI also singles out the department's work in Malawi, where it says support has moved from an "overambitious attempt to reform the criminal justice system as a whole" towards a programme that is now focused on "specific services" such as paralegal support for women.
But, overall, it concludes that the S&J portfolio is hampered by a "lack of management attention, leading to unclear objectives and poor supervision of implementers". It recommends the use of stronger empirical evidence, a rethink of Dfid's S&J procurement practices, and a more "focussed and realistic" guiding strategy.
Responding to the commission's findings, a Dfid spokeswoman told CSW the department's work around security and justice was some of its "most challenging". She said Difd had focused its efforts on areas "with the biggest potential for improvement".
"We have made good progress particularly in helping women and girls gain access to justice, but where concerns about human rights and instability become too high, we have no hesitation in shutting programmes down," she added.