Criminal Justice in Europe: A Comparative Study

By Phil Fennell; Christopher Harding et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

PHIL FENNELL, BERT SWART, NICO JÖRG, AND CHRISTOPHER HARDING

This book is the product of a six-year association between the Willem Pompe Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Utrecht and the Law Schools of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth and Cardiff. It contains a number of comparative studies on various aspects of criminal justice in the Netherlands and in England and Wales. The central themes of the book are convergence and Europeanization.

One of the fascinating aspects of comparative studies is that we each view the information that we have gained about the respective legal systems through the lens of our own legal culture. It is a salutary experience to see systems and procedures which have become reified in our minds from a perspective which finds it hard to believe that things could be done this way. By studying a different legal system and having discussions with persons brought up in it we may not only acquire a better understanding of that system but, at the same time, also of our own. What seemed strange in the other system may appear to be not so strange at all, while familiar and self-evident characteristics of our own system may become less obvious or even questionable. Comparative studies may teach us a number of things. For instance, we may become aware that, behind different ways of doing things, often the same goal is being pursued. On the other hand, they may show that similar practices are sometimes based on radically different assumptions or pursue quite different goals. Or they may warn us that answers to problems that have been found within one system will, despite their attractiveness at first sight, not always work within the framework of a different system. In the final analysis we are confronted with different societal norms and values that are at the basis of the respective legal systems.

Comparative studies of the criminal justice systems of the Netherlands and England and Wales are, in all these respects, especially rewarding. For on the one hand, being neighbouring countries, they share many cultural traditions and values and they face roughly the same social problems. On the other hand there are differences that seem to be of major importance. The Netherlands has an inquisitorial system of justice, while that of England and Wales is accusatorial. While criminal justice in the Netherlands has a reputation for being mild and tolerant to the extent that one may wonder whether its reputation is well-deserved or largely a myth, criminal

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