Universiteit Leiden

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Comparative Criminal Justice (MSc)

Programme structure

As a student of the Master's in Comparative Criminal Justice you develop academic, theoretical and research insight in all aspects of crime control. Student actively work on current, concrete problems and are challenged to independently find solutions. Students not only learn about the organization of policy and law enforcement, but are also confronted with very practical problems and implications.

Overview master's programme:

The first semester sketches the political, legal and methodological context for the comparative study of Criminal Justice. You will gain an overview of important questions and contemporary issues, as well as how these can be studied from different perspectives.

Criminal law, Politics and Society (5 ECTS)

From a criminological and legal-sociological perspective the course addresses what social and legal dilemma’s political and legal institutions face while governing the international threat of (transnational) terrorism, guaranteeing safety and handling (inter)national crises on the one hand , and protecting the rule of law in a democratic yet complex society on the other hand.

Comparative Criminal Justice Research Methods (10 ECTS)

This course provides an overview of the most important legal and criminological research methods than can be used to study the criminal justice system from a comparative perspective. The course will equip students with the necessary skills to conduct their own comparative research and enable them to reflect on the strengths, ethics and pitfalls of different methodological approaches.

Human Rights and European Criminal Law in Context (10 ECTS)

The aim of this course is to reflect on the meaning and scope of European influence (both Council of Europe and EU) on national criminal justice systems. This (potential) influence will be illustrated with examples. All this will be put in the broader comparative perspective of differences between common law and civil law jurisdictions.

Research Proposal (5 ECTS)

Students write a research proposal in preparation for their research thesis. They are supported in this process by the course coordinator and thesis supervisors, who are assigned early in the process. The research proposal provides an overview of the relevant literature on a criminal justice topic, identifies the limitations and gaps in knowledge, and outlines the contribution of the proposed project.

In the second semester you will gain a deeper understanding of specific criminal justice actors and processes in a comparative perspective. You will get an insight into the complexities of decision-making at various stages of the criminal justice process, including the implications in terms of legitimacy, accountability and effectiveness.

Public and Private Policing (5 ECTS)

The criminal justice landscape is changing rapidly, both on a national and supranational level, partly as a result of globalization, transnational crime problems, and the preoccupation with risk. New, private actors are entering the stage of crime control, or what may be more accurately called ‘risk management’. What does this mean for the role of the police and the nation-state in the criminal justice process?

Prosecution and Diversion (5 ECTS)

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.

Courts and Sentencing (5 ECTS)

Drawing on interdisciplinary perspectives, this course examines the empirical study of sentencing, its processes and outcomes. In particular, this course explores how we understand the exercise of judicial discretion in the criminal courts, and how we assess the fairness of the sentencing process and outcomes.

Punishment and Prisons (5 ECTS)

This course aims to make students aware of the explanations, social consequences and guiding principles of punishment, comparing different contexts, cultures and countries. During the lectures, attention will be paid to the theoretical assumptions, normative implications and empirical knowledge on punishment and prisons, in comparative perspective. During the seminars, students will be stimulated to analyse and compare key developments on the different topics mentioned above.

Master Thesis Criminal Justice (10 ECTS)

The master’s thesis forms the conclusion of the programme. Twice a year you can enrol in a number of themes and start the thesis procedure.

You will carry out individual, independent, academic research on a topic in the area of comparative criminal justice. You will demonstrate that you are able to identify an issue or problem, formulate a research question, critically clarify and analyse this, and arrive at a clearly argued answer and/or solution, supported by extensive empirical and/or legal research.

During an internship you will work for a consecutive period at an organisation such as a ministry or international business. This is an excellent way to discover if the type of work suits you. The content of the internship is discussed with the internship coordinator of your programme. The Student Career Services of Leiden University and the faculty career coach are glad to help you find a suitable internship position. For advice on applications and a current overview of available positions in the Netherlands and abroad see: Student Career Service. On the student website and the Leiden University Job Portal you can find an overview of internships, part-time jobs and positions that we receive.

A period studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to broaden your horizon. Specialist knowledge which may not be available in Leiden, can sometimes be found at a university in another country. You learn how to manage in unfamiliar surroundings. You improve your language skills and increase your chances of finding a job. Last but not least, you learn how to think in a more international way. You can already start making plans to go abroad during your bachelor.

At a university abroad you can take courses that are not offered at Leiden. Or you can specialise in subjects which receive less attention here. The law school collaborates with many renowned universities in Europe such as Oxford, Paris, Siena, Oslo, Granada and Zurich. But we also have contacts throughout the world. For instance, you can study in China at Shanghai International Studies University.

More information: Office for International Education


During the master’s programme you will encounter different types of examinations to assess a diverse set of skills. This includes research papers, short essays, blog posts, presentations, and written exams. The written assignments often offer flexibility in the choice of topic, so that students can focus on an angle within the subject that they find particularly interesting. Importantly, students will be trained in the skills necessary to undertake these different forms of assessment.

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