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Interview with Associate Professor Pim Geelhoed

Date:23 November 2021
Assoc. Prof. Pim Geelhoed
Assoc. Prof. Pim Geelhoed

Pim Geelhoed is an Associate Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure at the Faculty of Law, and also the Acting Academic Head of the Global Criminal Law LLM programme. We've asked him a few questions below to learn more about his academic profile and perspectives on the courses and programmes that he teaches within the Faculty.

What is your specific academic background, and what are your research interests? Do you currently work on any specific research projects?

I studied law in Leiden, specializing in criminal law. I have always been interested in the impact of European law on the domestic criminal law system. My PhD research focused on the principle of expediency, which allows prosecutors in many criminal justice systems an enormous discretion in their decision-making. I discussed the way in which this principle becomes increasingly more difficult to uphold, as the European Union requires its member states to effectively fight all kinds of crime, which leaves less room for dismissing criminal cases or settling them out of court. Perhaps this influence in not that clear in practice, but it definitely raises many theoretical problems. The main question being, can we still hold that prosecutors can in principle dismiss criminal offences in the general interest if they wish? My answer was that we need to reconceptualise this fundamental principle of expediency that underlies the prosecutorial function, and I tried to give a fresh account of it. It is not very enthusiastically picked up by theory and practice, though. On second thought, there may be an increase in visible practical developments, such as the recently established European Public Prosecutor’s Office. I have written quite extensively on this ‘new kid on the block’ and it is exciting to watch what will happen when it starts to prosecute criminal offences in national courts.

What courses do you teach within the Faculty/Global Criminal Law programme?

Within the Global Criminal Law LLM Programme, I teach two courses. One is Organised and Financial Crime, and that deals with what we call ‘transnational criminal law’: crimes that have been defined in treaties but that are enforced domestically. These are well-known serious crimes such as drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, corruption, and trafficking in human beings. The other course that I teach in this programme is a research Seminar on Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters. In this course, students take the lead and carry out research on topics such as extradition, international assistance in evidence-gathering and the procedures that are involved if sentences must be executed abroad.

In the Dutch law specialisation in criminal law I coordinate and partly teach a course on International and European Criminal Law, together with my colleague Vincent Glerum. This course also focuses on topics such as jurisdiction, extradition and surrender and EU criminal law.

What do you enjoy teaching about these course subjects?

The most important part, I think, is that these topics urge students to set aside their regular way of thinking within a particular domestic system of criminal law. Current societies are so strongly interconnected that criminal law must reflect that, and criminal law authorities must work together to fight crime while protecting fundamental rights. For future lawyers, it is essential to be familiar with a specific system of law, but you also need to be able to leave that focus behind and to understand the differences between the multiple jurisdictions that exist. This is particularly true in Europe, where we have abolished border controls and where we have put up an enormous organisation, the EU, which distributes billions of Euros. These are incentives for crime, if you’re willing to see it. So we should adapt our legal systems in such a way that we are able to fight crime effectively and at the same time uphold our European values and the rule of law. This means that there are always interesting discussions that you can encounter in these subjects, and it’s fun to interact with students and talk about fundamental aspects of our field of law.

How is the Global Criminal Law programme unique compared to similar programmes elsewhere?

The programme combines many perspectives on the wider topic of criminal law, all having a international angle. We make use of comparative law methods, we discuss international cooperation such as extradition, we look at true international criminal law and procedure, as it is applied by the International criminal courts and tribunals, and we address specific forms of crime that have an international nature almost by definition, such as cybercrime and financial crimes. It is this combined approach that makes this programme unique: we don’t focus on the law as it is in a single domestic jurisdiction, or on the laws that are applied at the international courts, but we use all of these approaches within a one-year master’s programme. This means that our students need a decent background before they start, as they will immediately move beyond the one-jurisdiction approach.

What career prospects do you think there could be for students who pursue careers in your specific legal field of expertise?

As a true academic by heart, my primary advice to any good student would of course be to find a career in academia. There are so many fascinating research questions to be tackled that it is almost impossible to decide which one to start working on. But perhaps not everyone wants to take that course. Alternatively, there are many international and European organisations, international and domestic courts, prosecutor’s offices, law firms and governments that need good lawyers who are able to cast a wider net. For many positions in law practice it remains important to get a relevant qualification that enables you to be a practicing lawyer. Sometimes that means that student also need separate training in a domestic legal system. I would say that students would really have an added value if they do both: get training on a particular field of law within a particular system, and try to broaden your horizon as well.

Has the Covid-19 situation or any other recent international events affected the way in which experts in your field practise/operate their professions?

Courts have obviously been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Criminal courts in particular tend do have a strong focus on discussing matters in hearings, meeting physically in a courtroom. I must say that court cases have experienced some delays, mainly in the beginning of the pandemic, but they have quickly recovered. There still are some aspects that have been affected though. For a long time, courts had restrictions on accessing court buildings for persons interested in watching a hearing. This affected the transparency of the criminal procedure, and should not be accepted for a long period of time. Luckily, many restrictions have been lifted, but If the situation deteriorates they may be reinstated. Another thing that was perhaps more strongly hit is the international transfer of suspects and prisoners, which was almost impossible for some time because many borders were closed. The applicable legal rules, such as the Framework Decision on the European Arrest Warrant, have proven to be flexible enough for practitioners to use also in the situation of closed borders, allowing them to postpone the actual surrender of persons wanted in another state.

Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing your same field of legal expertise

I hesitate a bit here, because I think most students should keep thinking for themselves what the best options for their own development are. But leaving that aside, I think it is very important to immerse yourself in a system of law and aim to understand it very well. You must be able to navigate it and address real life issues and come to a clear conclusion. Be clear and convinced, but always leave room for some doubt, I would say, since all humans are fallible. Even courts are, and therefore they can be overruled by higher courts. Try to never lose that critical dimension, or if you have lost it, try to regain it. And never be satisfied with answers such as ‘that is the way it is’ or ‘we have always done it like this’. It is essential for a well-functioning society that we have reasons for doing things as we do, and that we discuss these reasons in an orderly, peaceful manner. So strive for improvement, while constantly being in touch with others to keep checking whether your ideas are in touch with fundamental values such as liberty, fairness, and equality which will hopefully characterize our societies for a long time to come.

- Interview by: Dr. Chris Brennan, Marketing Advisor, Faculty of Law


Interested in more information about the Global Criminal Law LLM programme? You can ask questions directly to the Faculty by filling out our information request form.