Students who want to take this course need to be admitted to the master’s program in Comparative Criminal Justice.
In the second half of the 20th century the numbers of crimes and suspects recorded have increased dramatically. Despite a more recent reduction of crimes in some western European states, there is little doubt that the quantitative expansion of criminal justice systems has had far-reaching impact on the way in which its actors operate. Often described as a key player in the criminal justice system – ‘the gatekeeper to the courtroom’, the ‘engine’ or the ‘dynamo’ of criminal procedure – the public prosecutor is among the institutional actors which underwent the most significant transformations over the last few decades, with its functions and goals being increasingly redesigned. It is now apparent that the developments affecting the aims and the role of prosecution services have been caused by the increasing flood of proceedings to be handled at the preliminary stage. This state of things has led to the introduction of procedural shortcuts and simplifications – designed to prevent criminal cases to reach the court stage – which radically changed the role played by prosecutors, often by means of an increase in their discretionary power. The primary objective of this course is describing the transformation of the functions performed by the prosecution services: indeed, as the pressure of increasing caseload grew, prosecutors have shifted from being simple actors of the criminal proceeding to performing a more ambitious role of conflict-resolution and case-settling. This has often been accompanied by the introduction of full-fledged alternatives to prosecution, used to divert cases away from courts while subjecting suspects to various forms of restriction and deprivation. It appears, however, that the international trends described above take place with a varying degree of intensity within national jurisdictions, mostly depending on the general principles governing prosecution at national level (e.g. principles of expediency or principle of legality; adversarial or inquisitorial legal system, etc.). The course will therefore provide an overview of the different models of prosecution emerging from a comparative analysis, in order to outline the way in which prosecutions services manage to deal with a growing demand for ‘criminal justice intervention’. Attention will be paid to the procedural simplifications introduced to increase prosecutorial discretion and establish new forms of diversion at the pre-trial stage – thereby accentuating the decision-making powers of prosecutors. Emphasis will be placed on the dangers related to an unrestricted expansion of these diversionary schemes, raising awareness on the risks that such transformation poses to procedural and fundamental rights. Then, encouraging evidence on the effectiveness of pre-trial diversion treatments will be critically discussed. Finally, the course will address the problematic relationship between prosecutors and the police as well as the role played by victims in the prosecutorial decision-making.
Objectives of the course
Upon completing this course, students:
will be aware of the historical origins, developments and current status of prosecutorial organizations in a comparative perspective;
will discover how – from an organizational and sociological standpoint – prosecution services manage to deal with a growing number of cases;
will be able to reflect critically upon the actual distribution of powers within the ‘penal field’ at the pre-trial stage, by analyzing the interaction between prosecutors and police;
will combine their knowledge on the evidence-based effectiveness of pre-trial diversion programs with a more critical insight on the risks connected to an uncontrolled expansion of prosecutor's adjudicating powers.
Mode of instruction
Number of (2 hour) interactive lectures: 7, during which specific aspects of the literature will be discussed.
The lectures are divided in three main blocks (each of two lectures).
At the end of the first lecture of each block, students are assigned topic to write a short paper on one of the topics covered by the course.
Number of (2 hour) mandatory seminars: 2
During these seminars students will be engaged in group assignments, addressing practical questions based on the two previous lectures.
Seminars will also be devoted to collectively discussing the topics covered by the week’s paper upon submission of the latter.
All students are required to attend and actively participate during lectures and seminars.
Outline of the lectures and seminars
Lecture 1: General principles governing prosecution in a comparative perspective
Lecture 2: The discretionary powers of prosecutors: institutional features and decision-making (law and practice).
Lecture 3: The relationship between prosecutors and the police: a precarious allocation of powers.
Seminar 1: Discussion of paper's topics and collective assignment on a practical exercise
Lecture 4: Prosecutorial decision-making and the role victims: procedural rights and social legitimacy
Seminar 2: Discussion of paper’s topics and collective assignment on a practical exercise
Lecture 5: Diverting cases away from prosecution: from unconditional dismissal to pre-trial diversion programs
Lecture 6: Testing the results of pilot-experiences with juvenile and drug-related offenders.
Seminar 3: Discussion of paper’s topics and collective assignment on a practical exercise
Lecture 7: Summary of the course and preparation for the written exam
- Final paper (50%). Students will have to write a final written assignment.
- Portfolio (50%) Two times during the course, students are expected to write a short (2-3
pages) individual paper. These papers form part of the portfolio.
All requirements mentioned above have to be met and the three components of the final
grade should be at least a 5.5 in order to complete the course successfully. If this is not the case, the lowest partial grade will be registered as final grade.
There will be a resit for the final paper.
Depending on the number of participants, the course coordinator can decide that this retake will be an oral examination. In that case, students will be notified of this in time.
Students are expected to prepare for lectures by reading the literature assigned. The
mandatory readings must be consistently relied on to write the individual papers.
Attendance of seminars is compulsory, and proper preparation and active participation is
The partial exams 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.
Jehle, J. (2008). The Public Prosecutor as Key-Player: Prosecutorial Case-Ending Decisions. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, (2-3), 161-179.
Tak, P.J.P. (2008). Methods of Diversion used by the Prosecution Services in the Netherlands and Other Western Countries, UNAFEI Annual report, 74 Resource Material Series (http://www.unafei.or.jp/english/pages/RMS/No74.htm), 53-64
Taleb, A. & Ahlstrand, T. (2011). The Public Prosecutor, its role, duties and powers in the pre-trial stage of the criminal justice process: a comparative study of the French and the Swedish legal systems. International Review of Penal Law, 82(2-3), 523-540.
Choe, D.H. (2014). Discretion at the pre-trial stage: A comparative study. European Journal of Criminal Policy Research, 20, 101-119.
Kijelby G. J. (2015). Some Aspects of and Perspectives on the Public Prosecutor’s Objectivity according to ECtHR Case-Law Bergen Journal of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, 3(1), 61-83.
Check the website under “course and exam enrollment” for information on how to register for the course.
Employability and (academic) career
Participants train their skills in analyzing data, reviewing literature, presenting their research outcomes, debating, and developing criminal justice policies.
Course coordinator: K. Zoumpoulakis
Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology
Opening hours: 09.00 to 12.30
Telephone secretariat: 071 – 527 74 62
Room number: B3.11
In case of (corona)restrictions imposed by the government, this course description is subject to change.