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Human Rights and European Criminal Law in Context


Entry requirements

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

Course description

Traditionally, the criminal justice systems of European countries have always had their own specific and characteristic features. At their core, these systems are sometimes related, but have further developed in a long and dynamic national process. However, 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 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. The course aims to trace back the origins of this process of Europeanization (and Internationalization) of criminal justice. In order to do so, lectures will go over 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 massive exposure to supranational inputs.

The course is divided in 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 on 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 rely heavily on the analysis of judicial reasoning, in order to 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 influence for Member States’ criminal justice systems. This was largely due to the activism of the European Court of Human Rights in interpreting such Convention. In addition to the influence stemming from the ECHR, the European Union (EU) has grown 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 analysed 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 criminalising certain behaviours increasingly transcend state’s sovereignty and political will.

Conclusively, the fifth block will serve as a preparation for the moot court sessions. Here the main 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

  1. Develop substantive and methodological comparative law knowledge and skills insights and deploy these in the context of multi-level, transnational European criminal justice frameworks.
  2. Explain how different forms of criminality can be harmonized in the European Union and the Council of Europe framework and evaluate whether a given offence should be harmonized and to what extent, referring to subsidiarity and proportionality and by assessing the evidential basis for the proposed harmonized definitions of crime.
  3. Explain how a common system of cooperation in criminal law enforcement developed within the European Union and Council of Europe frameworks and draw implications from this 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 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, appreciating in practice the role played by private individuals and state authorities in the process of ´making justice’.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction

This course is legal in nature. Still, it aims to provide a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary account of European Criminal Justice. The very diverse backgrounds of students, with or without a legal background, will be taken into account in order to secure an adaptive and individualized teaching. Supplementary readings may be recommended to strengthen students’ background knowledge of the subject matter.

Part I: Europeanisation of Human Rights and Criminal Justice: Setting the scene
Lecture 1: Criminal Justice Systems across Europe
Lecture 2: The Emergence of Human Rights in Europe
Lecture 3: Europeanisation of Human Rights and Criminal Law: The Council of Europe
Lecture 4: Europeanisation of Human Rights and Criminal Law: The European Union
Lecture 5: Europeanisation of Human Rights and Criminal Law: Constitutional and Cultural Challenges in National Criminal Justice Systems
Lecture 6+7: The Why and How of Comparative Criminal Law in Europe (comparative legal research methods and case studies)
Lecture 8: European Courts and Comparative Law
Lecture 9: National Courts and Comparative Law

Part II: Towards a European Area of Justice and Rights: Current Issues
Lecture 10: Trust and Distrust in Cross-border Criminal Justice Cooperation
Lecture 11: Human Rights Protection in the Member States Beyond the European Minimum Standards: Consequences and Limits
Lecture 12: Judicial Dialogues on Human Rights: European Courts versus National Courts
Lecture 13: Judicial Dialogues on Human Rights: Strasbourg versus Luxembourg
Lecture 14: Substantive criminal law and human rights

Part III: Clinics
4 classes for presentations on a group assignment.

Other methods of instruction
Weekly office hours during which the students can talk to the course coordinator. The office hours are not mandatory and students should send an email to the secretarial office ( at least one day (24 hours) prior in order to announce their wish to come to the office hours. Such requests should always include a short description of the reason for wanting to meet.

Assessment method

  • The students’ final grade will be based on a written exam containing open questions (50%) and a group assignment (50%).

  • The group assignment will consist of participation in a moot court, for which written memorials and an oral pleading must be prepared.

  • Each component of the final grade must be completed with a passing grade (5,5 minimum).

  • There will be a retake for both the written exam and the group assignment. Depending on the number of participants, the course coordinator can decide that the written exam’s retake will be an oral examination. In that case, you will be notified in due time.

Procedure for handing in your paper
The paper must be submitted via Turnitin (Brightspace).

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), on the condition that this course is included in the compulsory components of the degree program. 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

Assigned literature will be announced through Brightspace and in the course guide (to be published on Brightspace).

Optional supplementary readings in preparation for the course, for students without a previous knowledge of European law, include:

  • 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 (especially recommended for students with a degree in social sciences)

  • R. Schütze, An Introduction to European Law, Cambridge University Press, 2015 (especially recommended for non-EU students)

Employability and career

The moot court assignment aims to further improve students' writing and oral skills. These skills may be fruitfully employed in many criminal justice-related career paths.

A field trip may form a significant part of the course. This will provide an opportunity to orientate on potential career perspectives.


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: dr. A. Martufi

  • Availability: Monday till Friday, through the secretariat

  • Telephone: 071 – 527 74 62

  • E-mail:


  • Institute: Criminal Law and Criminology

  • Department: Criminology

  • Opening hours: 09.00 to 12.30

  • Telephone secretariat: 071 – 527 74 62

  • E-mail: