ZiF Workshop

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Justice in Criminal Law

Date: 23 – 24 May 2019
Convenors: Véronique Zanetti (Bielefeld, GER), Valerij Zisman (Bielefeld, GER)

The debate on justice in criminal law experienced an interesting upswing in the last decades. For a long time, there has been a widely shared consensus that doing justice in criminal law requires the state to inflict proportional retributive punishment on an offender. But in today's debate, restorative justice as an alternative to the retributive paradigm has gained immense importance. According to restorative justice, the offender ought to repair the harm he or she inflicted on the victim. This might consist in compensations for the losses of the victim and a genuine apology to the victim. Punishment is taken to be of little to no importance for justice. The claim that we do not need punishment to do justice strikes many as implausible.

Justice is a central feature of modern criminal law and the linchpin for the legitimacy of a state's right to inflict punishment on offenders. Justice is intimately connected with demands of proportionality of punishment and due process. The conference aimed to debate new developments concerning the proper understanding of justice in criminal law, with focus on the question which justice paradigm should govern our understanding of the criminal law in the first place: retributive justice, with its emphasis on the infliction of the deserved burdens on the offender; or restorative justice, with its emphasis on the restoration of the harm done to the victim, and the relationship between the offender, the victim, and the broader community both are part of.

The workshop brought together experts from different disciplines including philosophy, law, social psychology, criminology, and religious studies. In a span of two days, nine talks were given on different topics concerning justice in criminal law, tackling many important problems and questions, some of which were: how much are justice concerns driven by retributive impulses of people – and are revenge and retribution irrational, or do they serve communicative purposes? Do people prefer to compensate victims over punishing offenders – if so, under what circumstances do such preferences manifest themselves and what are the implications of this finding for our preferred notion of justice in criminal law? Should theorizing in criminal law start with the rights of the victims rather than the guilt of the offender?

Even though the punishment-paradigm appears to be central to many lawmakers and laypeople, some of the speakers forcefully pressed the idea that a fundamental rethinking of our justice system might be worthwhile. Instead of traditional courtroom settings with punishment being determined by judges, restorative justice approaches with reparative sentences determined by the victim, offender, and broader community have to be considered as an alternative to our current practices.

The workshop was successful in its aim to bring together these different disciplines to shed a new light on a topic of crucial moral and political importance. Working in this interdisciplinary manner proved fruitful for furthering the current debate and research in the years to come.

Véronique Zanetti, Valerij Zismann


Eyal Aharoni (Atlanta, USA), Jan Christoph Bublitz (Oxford, GBR), Mario Gollwitzer (München, GER), Tatjana Hörnle (Berlin, GER), Victoria McGeer (Princeton, USA), Tamler Sommers (Houston, USA), Elke Stachowiak (Berlin, GER), Janne van Doorn (Leiden, NED), Katharina von Kellenbach (St. Marys City, USA)

Please direct questions concerning the organisation of the workshop to Marina Hoffmann at the Conference Office. Questions regarding scientific content and contributions should be directed to the organizers.

Tel: +49 521 106-2768
Fax: +49 521 106-152768
E-Mail: marina.hoffmann@uni-bielefeld.de