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Human Rights and European Criminal Law in Context


Admission requirements

Students who want to take this course need to be admitted to the master’s programme in Comparative Criminal Justice.


Traditionally, different criminal justice systems across Europe have always had their own specific and particular features. Although at their core these systems may sometimes be related, they have further developed through a long and dynamic national process. Nonetheless, over the past few decades national criminal justice systems have increasingly been exposed to an ever-growing influence of European and international developments.

The growth of European and international influence on national criminal justice is partly due to the increasing relevance of human rights, although it can also be explained by the changing nature and magnitude of transnational and cross-border crime. This course aims to trace back the origins of this process of Europeanization (and Internationalization) of criminal justice. In order to do so, lectures will track the various stages of this development, showing how European criminal justice systems have evolved from a state of relative isolation to a growing interconnection and significant exposure to supranational inputs.

The course is divided into five blocks. In the first block, lectures will explore the most relevant features of European criminal justice systems, outlining their internal taxonomies and conceptual divides, and providing an overview of their key actors. The second block will lay emphasis on the increased interaction between criminal justice systems, with a specific focus on the role played by comparative law in fostering the circulation of legal models and policy transfers. This part of the course will show how comparative methodology is often used by courts to interpret and apply legal provisions. The third block will feature an extensive discussion of the emergence of supranational human rights norms in Europe. It will be explained that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has long been the most relevant source of supranational influence for Member States’ criminal justice systems. This was largely due to the activism of the European Court of Human Rights in interpreting the Convention. In addition to the influence stemming from the ECHR, the European Union (EU) has become increasingly relevant for national criminal justice systems across Europe. The EU has not only developed its own human rights standards (e.g. the EU Charter of fundamental rights), but also worked to establish common instruments to combat cross-border crimes and increase judicial cooperation.

The growing influence of European law has been met with some resistance by national legislatures and, perhaps more significantly, by national courts. In the fourth block these legal and cultural conflicts are analyzed in detail. This conflicting relationship is epitomized by recent clashes (between the EU and some of its Member States) on the principle of ‘judicial independence’. Other tensions have to do with the EU’s power to enact legislation in the field of substantive criminal law, as this competence implies that choices of criminalizing certain behaviors increasingly transcend state’s sovereignty and political will. This part of the course will rely heavily on the analysis of judicial reasoning, by studying the dialogue between Strasbourg and Luxembourg on the one hand, and the clashes between European and national courts on the other hand. Finally, the fifth block will serve as a preparation for the moot court sessions. Here the focus will be on the ‘law in action’. An in-depth presentation of courtroom techniques and judicial reasoning will shed light on the complex and dynamic relationship between the actors involved in a judgement before the European Court of Human Rights.

Course objectives

After completion of the course, students will be able to:
1. Develop substantive and methodological comparative law knowledge, skills and insights and deploy these in the context of multi-leveled, transnational European criminal justice frameworks;
2. Explain how different forms of criminality can be tackled in the EU and the Council of Europe’s framework by evaluating whether a given offence should be harmonized (and to what extent), thereby referring to subsidiarity and proportionality and assessing the evidential basis for the proposed harmonized definitions of crime;
3. Understand the different systems of judicial cooperation and enforcement developed by the EU and Council of Europe and draw implications from their development for the various actors within this system; 4. Compare the different sources of human rights and procedural rights, explain their meaning in relation to their legal context and indicate which (problematic) consequences result from a multiplicity of procedural rights sources;
5. Evaluate the influence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, stemming from the ECHR and the European Union law, on (parts of) national criminal justice systems;
6. Understand and be able to navigate the complex interaction between national and European legal and policy dynamics in the criminal justice field;
7. Learn how to plead a case before the European Court of Human Rights, understanding (in practice) the role played by private individuals and state authorities in the process of ‘dispensing justice’.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

For this course, students are required to make use of the reading materials indicated below. Preparation on each week’s readings is compulsory. Reading materials will be made available online in advance via Brightspace, so that you can arrive prepared for the lecture. You are expected to prepare on these readings, given that lectures will revolve around the reading materials and address the complexities of the topic(s) in question. Lectures’ slides will be posted on Brightspace after each class.

There will be room for Q&A, as well as comments during each lecture. No specific Q&A session will be provided, but an ‘ad hoc’ discussion board will be available for practical and exam-related questions, which we will check regularly throughout the course.

Assessment method

The students’ final grade will be based on an individual portfolio (30%), a group assignment (30%) and a final written exam with open questions (40%). The individual portfolio consists of three (3) individual papers, whereas the group assignment consists of participation in a moot court, for which written memorials and oral pleadings must be prepared. Each component of the final grade should be passed in order to complete the course successfully. If this is not the case, the grade that will be registered as final grade cannot exceed a 5.

Students will be able to review their exam and their assignments after the grades have been published. The exact dates and times will be published at a later stage on Brightspace. We wish to emphasize that students will only be able to review their work on the set dates and times, no exceptions allowed. There will be a retake for both the final exam and the group assignment. Depending on the number of participants, the course coordinator can decide that the retake for the final exam will be an oral examination.

The components that have been finished with a passing grade, will be valid up to and including the academic year following the year in which the grade has been achieved. To this there is one exception: when the learning objectives, content, design or examination of a course has been changed, the course coordinator can decide that the validity of the partial exam concerned has expired due to didactic reasons. This will be stated in the course description of the academic year in which the change(s) will be implemented.

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. and further of the Course and Examination Regulations). Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. To retake a passed exam, students need to ask the Student Administration Office (OIC) for permission. For more information, go to 'course and exam enrollment' > 'permission for retaking a passed exam' on the student website.

Reading list

The assigned literature will be announced through Brightspace and will be included in the course guide, which will be published before the beginning of the course.

For students without a previous knowledge of European law, the following optional readings are highly recommended:

  • R. Colson, S. Field (eds.), EU Criminal Justice and the Challenges of Diversity Legal Cultures in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice, Cambridge University Press, 2016.

  • R. Schütze, An Introduction to European Law, Cambridge University Press, 2015.


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.  


  • Coordinator: Konstantinos Zoumpoulakis

  • Availability: Monday till Friday, via email

  • E-mail: []


  • Institute: Criminal Law and Criminology

  • Department: Criminology

  • Opening hours: 9.00 to 16.00

  • Telephone secretariat: 071 – 527 7871 / 527 7872 / 527 7462

  • E-mail: