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Criminal Justice: Legitimacy, Effectiveness, Accountability


Admission requirements

Students who want to take this course need to be admitted to the Criminal Justice master’s program


Criminal Justice as a concept refers to (the system of) practices and institutions of governments directed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime, or sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties and rehabilitation efforts. Whereas this “definition” seems rather clear-cut, depending on an individual’s culture, nationality and disciplinary background, the definition will be explained differently and, accordingly, there will be different areas of emphasis and theoretical underpinnings.
In order to create a thorough and common understanding of the complex and interdisciplinary nature of the concept of criminal justice, this opening course of the master’s programme in Criminal Justice provides an overview of the systems of criminal justice currently operated in common law and civil law countries. The core components that both constitute and bind criminal justice and its actors and processes despite continental boundaries – legitimacy, accountability and effectiveness – are introduced as important leading components. These components will be scrutinized from the perspectives of both criminal law and criminology. Following this overview of the core concepts, you are introduced to contemporary issues and controversies in criminal justice. For the latter, a cross-national comparative focus is used to empirically examine issues on crime volumes, crime control, and public opinion on safety-related issues, .
Furthermore, on a topic of their choice, you are invited to write a research paper on a specific subject involving either legitimacy, accountability or effectiveness of criminal justice practices. Apart from literature analysis on this topic, the research paper also involves analysis of global comparative data. For this, you will have a large range of cross-national comparative datasets at your disposal from which you can choose relevant datasets on your own topic (e.g. International Crime Victims Survey, World Values Survey, Transparency International Index, et cetera).
The course is embedded in the Criminal Justice research program of the Institute for Criminal Law & Criminology.

Course objectives

Upon completing this course, students will be able to:

  • scientifically reflect on comparative issues regarding crime and criminal justice, including both their embeddedness in the broader social fabric (historical background, governmental styles) and measurement problems;

  • explain and apply the three core components of this course (accountability, effectiveness and legitimacy) and their interconnectedness;

  • explain and criticize the differences between common law and civil law system countries;

  • perform a literature analysis on a topic involving cross-national comparison of criminal justice issues on legitimacy, accountability, or effectiveness, and formulate a relevant research question on that topic

  • analyze cross-national comparative data on that topic (made available by the teacher), using descriptive techniques of analysis and, upon request, multivariate techniques to draw adequate conclusions from the results and write a coherent research paper.


Choose bachelor and master.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of lectures: 10

  • The first element of this course is a series of traditional lectures during which various lecturers, including guest lecturers, will reflect upon and discuss the assigned reading material. Students are required to prepare for these lectures by reading the assigned literature and preparing questions.


  • Number of seminars: 10

  • By means of weekly assignments that will be discussed during the seminars, you are challenged to reflect critically on comparative aspects of criminal justice systems.

  • Furthermore, several seminars will be utilized to discuss progress of the writing assignment and address possible problems that you experience with this.

  • Finally, some seminars will be devoted to the empirical analysis of quantitative comparative data on crime and criminal justice. Depending on prior skills in this area, seminars will either focus on basic, descriptive techniques, or advanced types of analysis.

All participants are required to attend and actively participate during lectures and seminars.

Other methods of instruction

  • Description: Office hours

  • For this course, the teachers will hold office hours once a week. If you wish to make an appointment for this, please do so by using this email address:

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Weekly group assignments

  • Final written examination

Course grades are determined by:

  • Writing assignment / research paper (individual) (50%)

  • Final examination, open questions (50%)

  • All assignments must be submitted via SafeAssign (Blackboard)

  • All components should be at least 5,5 in order to complete the course successfully.

  • For fulltime students, all grades hold for the present and the subsequent academic year.

  • There will be a re-examination for both components.

  • Depending on the number of participants, the course coordinator can decide that the retake of the final examination mentioned above will be an oral examination. In that case, you will be notified in time.


The use of Blackboard is required.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Van Dijk, J. (latest edition) The World of Crime. Breaking the Silence on Problems of Security, Justice, and Development across the World. Los Angeles: Sage.

  • A series of articles and chapters that will be distributed through Blackboard.

Recommended course materials

  • Bachman, R. and Schutt, R.K. (latest edition) Fundamentals of Research in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Los Angeles: Sage, or equivalent.

  • Field, A. (latest edition) Discovering Statistics using SPSS. Los Angeles: Sage, or

  • Brace, N., Kemp, R. and Snelgar, R. (latest edition) SPSS for Psychologists. Houndmills: MacMillan Publishers

  • MacCormick, N (latest edition) Institutions of Law: An Essay in Legal Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis


  • Course co-ordinator: Dr. J.A. van Wilsem

  • Availability: Tuesday till Friday, through the secretariat

  • Telephone: 071 – 527 74 62

  • E-mail:


  • Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology

  • Department: Criminology

  • Opening hours: 09.00 to 12.30

  • Telephone secretariat: 071 – 527 74 62

  • E-mail: