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Law alumnus Vincent Peeters wins Leiden University Thesis Prize 2020

On Saturday 15 February 2020, the Leiden University Thesis Prizes were presented during the Dies celebration day for alumni. Joint first prize went to Vincent Peeters, who was awarded a cum laude master's degree in Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure in August 2019.

Vincent is particularly honoured to receive the prize, which is awarded each year by the Leiden University Fund (LUF). 'On the one hand it does feel like a personal recognition for all the hard work. On the other hand, it acknowledges what I believe to be the social relevance of systematic  research into the way in which the Supreme Court forms (open) standards to deal with serious current and social issues.

Vincent's thesis entitled Gezichtspunten in perspectief (viewpoints in perspective) deals with the intersection between private law and criminal law: the ‘range of viewpoints’ (gezichtspuntencatalogus). 'This is a list drawn up by the Supreme Court of factors or viewpoints that lower courts should take into account in their judgment so that it is verifiable. Traditionally, this is more concerned with private law which often refers to 'open standards'. However, criminal law is also faced with these open standards, partly because many legal concepts do not have a fixed meaning – for example internet fraud or human trafficking through exploitation of foreign workers.  My research demonstrates that the Supreme Court is increasingly formulating a range of viewpoints in criminal law. But this is not entirely self-evident, in particular because the departure points of the legislature, courts and parties in both legal systems are quite different.'

The research demonstrates that these positions in criminal law are shifting. 'The criminal law legislator seems to be partly leaving the responsibility for establishing standards to the Supreme Court. Also, the criminal courts can adopt a more passive approach by reference to the viewpoints, while the suspect and their lawyer are expected to take a more active approach during the proceedings to provide a plausible (counter)argument. The question is what this means for the practical value of procedural safeguards such as the right to remain silent. A new balance needs to be found and this research has provided a first step towards achieving this balance.'

Vincent shares the first prize with former anthropology student Shirley van der Maarel. So why were they the prize winners? 'This of course is always a balancing of viewpoints', Vincent says. 'Our theses stood out according to the jury because of their innovative approaches as well as their readability.' The jury report states: 'He has explored a more or less uncharted field of research and is able to explain it in a highly readable manner'.

Throughout the writing of his master’s thesis, Vincent was supervised by Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Tineke Cleiren. In addition, Willem van Schendel, vice-president of the Supreme Court and president of the Criminal Division provided background support. 'It was particularly instructive to exchange thoughts with them in such an intensive way. I am also very grateful to them for all their time and efforts in supervising this research.' Vincent started work at the Supreme Court in October 2019.

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