nl en

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 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.

To begin with, the course 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. Subsequently, lectures will emphasise 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 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, a last part of the course 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

After completion of the course, students will be able to:
1. Develop substantive and methodological comparative law knowledge and skills insights and deploy these in the context of multi-levelled, transnational European criminal justice frameworks;
2. Explain how different forms of criminality can be harmonized in the European Union 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 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 ´dispensing justice’.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

For this course, students are required to make use of the materials indicated above. Preparation on each week’s (and lecture’s) readings is compulsory.
Lectures’ slides and other materials will be distributed beforehand so that you can arrive prepared for lectures.

Besides traditional in-person lectures, the course will offer specific on-line knowledge clips providing insights into the topics covered during lectures.

For this reason 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 a group assignment (50%) and a written exam containing open questions (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).
Students will be able to review their exam and assignment 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.
Group Assignment
Underlining the importance and impact of supranational litigation on European Criminal and Criminal Procedural law, this course seeks to develop both theoretical and practical insights and skills with respect to adjudication at the two European Courts. To that end, part of the final grade will be made up through a Moot Court assignment, with a written and an oral component. At the beginning of the course, students will be divided into teams and allocated a party position with respect to a case which is to be adjudicated at a European judicial forum. The teams will prepare both a written memorial and oral presentation thereof throughout the weeks of the course, through team preparation sessions, assisted therein by instruction clinics to be organized outside of lecture hours. At the close of the course, the written memorials will be orally presented by the teams in a Moot Court setting.

  •    Pleading times and further logistics of the Moot Court will be set up at the start of the course, and will depend on the final number of participants.
  •    Following the pleadings in each case, all teams not engaged in a case will be asked to participate in the deliberation, which will assist the judges (lecturers and practioners) in reaching a judgment.
  •    The grade for the Moot Court Assignment will be made up of 40% for the written memorial (to be submitted in advance of the pleadings) and 10% for the Oral presentation.
  •    The oral presentation should not be a repetition of the written memorial, but rather be utilized as a vehicle for clear communication of its content, whilst pleading members should be able to respond to questions put to them by the adjudicating panel during pleadings.
  •    Assessment will be based on the technical and substantive quality of arguments and the innovative use of knowledge and skills developed via the course.

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

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

For this course the following materials are prescribed as required readings, i.e. students are expected to prepare for the classes by reading them in advance:

Handbook (available (online) via Leiden Law Library)

R. Colson & S. Field (eds.) EU Criminal Justice and the Challenges of Diversity. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Articles (available (online) via Leiden Law Library)

  • to be provided via Brightspace


Check the website under “course and exam enrollment” for information on how to register for the course.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: R. Al Sabri Halawi LLM MSc

  • 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:


In case of (corona)restrictions imposed by the government, this course description is subject to change.