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Research project

Criminal legislation - criteria for criminalization

One of the recurring points of discussion within the Criminal Justice research program is the question of which behaviors should and should not fall within the scope of criminal law. This question is examined from a legal- dogmatic and social-scientific perspective.

Jeroen ten Voorde

From the start of the research program, the interest of the CJ research group in the theme of legitimacy of criminal legislation was aroused. Since 2009, the necessary publications have been produced within this subproject. The first publications included the report Towards an integral evaluation of anti-terrorism measures (2009) which was co-created by Cleiren, and the dissertation defended by Van der Woude Legislation in a Safety Culture, Establishment of anti-terrorism legislation from a social and (legal) political context about legislation in a security culture. In 2011, the research group organized a congress titled Criteria for criminalization in a new dynamic. At this inspiring congress, lawyers and social scientists examined the interaction between the traditional criteria that determined criminal law (or seemed to determine it) and the current environment in which criminal law has to function. The bundle Criteria for Criminalization, Symbolic Legitimacy versus Social Reality (2012), published as a result, contains contributions from researchers from the research group that reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the research.

As a follow-up to these results, research in the area of ​​substantive staff legislation and criteria for criminalization has been continued and intensified. Various researchers are conducting PhD research within this project. An internal PhD student worked on the effect of the European principle of legality on national offenses and case law (Altena, 2016 dissertation). Cnossen studies the complex relationship between criminal offenses in the commune and special criminal law and their effects. Two external PhD students (Esser and Bakker) are studying the structure of criminal law from the perspective of the criteria for criminalization and legal interests contained therein. A third external PhD student (Buruma) researches the criminalization of sedition and the legal interest of public order. Faassen investigates criteria for criminalization from an interdisciplinary perspective (neurolaw). With the appointment of Ouwerkerk as a professor, the European and comparative perspective of the research program has been strengthened.

Research into legislation/criminalization takes place ex ante (before a law is enacted and comes into force) and ex post (after a law has entered into force). This research is conducted by both lawyers and social scientists. A starting point that binds lawyers and social scientists is that they recognize the importance of evidence-based legislation/criminalization. The term “evidence” has two meanings: (1) research that legitimizes new legislation/criminalization (ex ante) and (2) research that shows that existing legislation/criminalization is effective (ex post). In the first case it concerns research into the prevalence of a certain phenomenon. For example: is it common enough and harmful enough to apply legislation / criminalization? Research into the needs and experiences of potential users (for example, victims or professionals working within the criminal justice chain) and research into public opinion (for example: how desirable do citizens think it is that the legislator takes action?). The second case involves researching intended/desired and unintended/undesired consequences of legislation/criminalization. It is essential that this is based on a "generative" interpretation of causality. This means that when establishing causality, account is also taken of the context in which an intervention (ie a law / criminalization) is committed and theories based on which effectiveness is expected. Meaningful statements about the (in)effectiveness of a legislation/criminalization can only be made when taking into account the historical, social and legal characteristics of the context in which the legislation/criminalization is implemented and the theoretical expectations that policy and law makers have of had before. By doing so, much more specific and nuanced statements about (possible) effectiveness can be made.

Current research projects


C.P.M. Cleiren – A study of the structure, structural characteristics, coherence and consistency of our current Criminal Code in the light of legitimacy, accountability and effectivity (co-financed by the LUF)

J.W. Ouwerkerk – Symbol or substance? Towards a systematic application of criminalisation criteria in EU Law (veni): De Europese Unie kan aan de lidstaten voorschrijven dat zij bepaalde gedragingen in nationale wetgeving strafbaar stellen. Dit project onderzoekt op welke gronden (zgn. ‘criteria voor strafbaarstelling’) de Europese Unie hiertoe kan overgaan. Tevens wordt een instrument ontwikkeld teneinde een systematische toepassing van deze criteria te vergemakkelijken en te realiseren.

S.R. Bakker - 'Uitzonderlijke excepties': een onderzoek naar de uitzonderlijke strafuitsluitingsgronden in een veranderende, veellagige rechtsorde (promotie-onderzoek in samenwerking met de Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam) 

T.M.B. Buruma – Opruiing (art. 131 Sr.) in een veranderde samenleving

J.P. Cnossen - De invloed van bijzonder strafrecht op fundamentele uitgangspunten van het strafrecht (promotie-onderzoek)

L.B. Esser -
 Strafbaarstelling van mensenhandel in de context van internationalisering en europeanisering (promotie-onderzoek)

J.N. Faassen - 
Strafbaarstelling, Moraliteit en de Neurowetenschappen: een nieuw perspectief op schade promotie-onderzoek)

K. Zoumpoulakis - Harmonization of Criminal Law in the EU: The meaning of minimum rules (promotie-onderzoek)

Core publications

J.W. Ouwerkerk e.a. (red.), The Future of EU Criminal Justice Policy and Practice. Legal and Criminological Perspectives, Leiden: Brill/Nijhoff 2019.

J.W. Ouwerkerk, Criminalization Powers of the European Union and the Risks of Cherry-Picking between Various Legal Bases: The Case for a Single Legal Framework for EU-Level Criminalization, Columbia Journal of European Law 2017. 23(3): 503-550.

J.M. ten Voorde, Strafbaarstelling van nieuwe vormen van ongewenste seksuele gedragingen in Nederlandse zedenwetgeving. In: Noodtoestand in het publiekrecht. Strafbaarstelling van nieuwe vormen van ongewenste seksuele gedragingen. Schadebegroting en tijdsverloop. Vereniging voor de vergelijkende studie van het recht van België en Nederland - Preadviezen nr. 2016 Den Haag: Boom Juridisch. 191-256.

J.M. ten Voorde, Prohibiting Remote Harms. On Endangerment, Citizenship and Control, Utrecht Law Review 2014 10(1): 163-179.

C.P.M. Cleiren, M.J.J. Kunst, J.P. van der Leun, G.K. Schoep & J.M. ten Voorde (red.) Criteria voor strafbaarstelling in een nieuwe dynamiek. Symbolische legitimiteit versus maatschappelijke en sociaalwetenschappelijke realiteit. Den Haag: Boom 2012.

M.A.H. van der Woude, Wetgeving in een Veiligheidscultuur. Totstandkoming van antiterrorismewetgeving bezien van maatschappelijke en (rechts)politieke context (diss), Den Haag:  Boom Juridische uitgevers 2010.

M.A.H. van der Woude, Voorzorgsstrafrecht:  zorgen voor inzichtelijke keuzes. Een eerste aanzet tot een ex post- en ex ante-evaluatiemodel voor de wetgever, in: M. Hildebrandt & R. Pieterman (red.), Zorg om Voorzorg, Den Haag: Boom Juridische Uitgevers 2010, p. 77-106.


Do you want to know more about the research that is being carried out within the Criminalization theme of the CJ research program? Then please contact Jeroen ten Voorde.

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