Chair: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


At the Tenth Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology (ESC) held at Liege, the Executive Committee agreed to accept a proposal to create a new Working Group on Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making. The proposal arose from two recent small European symposia held at the University of Strathclyde (2008); University of Leiden (2010); and a stream of five pre-arranged panel sessions (16 papers) organised for the 2010 ESC conference.


The aim of the Working Group is to bring together scholars working in the field of sentencing and penal decision-making (and others with a serious interest in academic work in that field) in order to: share research; ideas; and to encourage interest in the field across Europe. The Working Group seeks to foster discussion and fresh thinking; stimulate research; encourage theoretical development of the field; and critical as well as comparative European work. Specifically the proposed ESC Working Group on sentencing and penal decision-making is intended:

  • To facilitate the collaboration and networking of scholars, policy officials and practitioners across Europe, including countries whose sentencing and penal decision-making processes are not well-known to international audiences
  • To unlock the potential for cooperation among individuals and groups across Europe so that there is greater mutual knowledge and understanding of national sentencing systems and European-wide developments
  • To provide a visible forum so that scholars, policy officials and practitioners can discuss research, develop ideas, and disseminate knowledge to each other and also those in the policy and/or practice communities who might not otherwise be aware of that research (e.g. through the ESC web-presence; annual symposia; visiting fellowships; etc)

Ambit of 'Sentencing and Penal Decision-Making'

Because of its comprehensive focus on sentencing as an exercise in decision-making, the Working Group's remit extends well beyond those issues connected solely with the judicial selection of punishment. Many other decision-making processes which either affect or are affected by judicial sentencing practices are also of interest. So-called "back-door" decisions, such as the grant of remission, parole or other early release to sentenced prisoners, clearly fall within this category. But so also do other decisions, at earlier and later stages of the overall criminal process, including prosecution charging practices, plea decision-making and, where it exists, plea bargaining, which may have a significant impact on the sentence ultimately imposed.

An indicative areas of interest to the Working Group include, for example: influences in the sentencing decision process; the politics of sentencing and penal policy-making; judicial discretion; the use of non-executive penalties; judicial and penal cultures; victims and sentencing; public opinion, public attitudes and knowledge of sentencing and punishment; multi-disciplinary courts; sentencing reform structures; penal aims and justifications; (in)equality and punishment; consistency and disparity in sentencing and penal decision-making; legitimacy and decision-making; the role of new technologies; release from custody; plea-bargaining. However, it is stressed that these are indicative examples only and this list is not intended to be exhaustive.

In all of these areas the Working Group aims to bring comparative perspectives and a focus on changes in European law and policy, as well as theoretical rigour and search for fresh approaches.

Rationale for the Working Group

Although sentencing and penal decision-making is a long-established field which attracts numerous papers to ESC each year there is no Working Group dedicated to sentencing and penal-decision-making.

Developments at the levels of the Council of Europe and the European Union provide further impetus for the creation of the proposed Working Group. Throughout much of its history, the European Court of Human Rights did not deal very extensively with sentencing issues as such, apart from matters connected with life sentences. More recently, however, it has decided many cases involving the extent to which prison conditions in some member states comply with Article 3 of the Convention. Meanwhile, European Union institutions are becoming more closely involved in criminal law matters, particularly through the creation of framework decisions on judicial co-operation and mutual recognition of judicial decisions. States may now, for example, refuse to surrender a person under a European Arrest Warrant if, at the time of the proposed surrender, he or she is at risk of suffering a violation of his/her rights under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of prison conditions (or, presumably sentencing practices) in the requesting state. Here, then, we see the legislation and case law of the two major European institutions combining to have a potentially profound impact on the sentencing and custodial regimes of member states. Thus, the WG seeks to examine the legal, social and policy implications of these developments also.


The Working Group builds on the stream of five panels organised for Liege conference and continue to organise a stream of panels for the annual ESC conference. In addition, it is intended to organise regular symposia examining European sentencing and penal decision-making issues. The Working Group warmly welcomes new members, (some of whom may not otherwise become ESC members nor ESC conference delegates), including from countries where sentencing and penal decision-making scholarship does not have a high international profile. The Working Group will also seek to forge links with policy and practice communities in different countries and also at EU level. For instance, we actively seek to promote our activities to a range of policy and practice audiences, such as sentencing councils (eg that in England & Wales, and in Scotland); judicial studies organisations, etc.

Cooperation with the Community Sanctions Working Group

The Community Sanctions Group refers to some aspects of sentencing at its meetings in so far as it is pertinent to community sanctions. To the extent that there are some areas of common interest, the two Working Groups have agreed to cooperate. The Chair of the CS Working Group is also a member of the Sentencing and Penal Decision-Making Working Group, and the Chair of the Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making WG is also a member of the CS Working Group. Similar cooperation will be sought with other Working Groups where appropriate.


Membership is open to anyone with a scholarly interest in European aspects of sentencing and penal decision-making. This includes those who are not active academic researchers themselves but have a strong interest in such research (e.g. policy officials, NGOs, criminal justice practitioners). We also warmly welcome the interest of early career researchers (eg PhD students) and other post-graduate students. We are also particularly interested in contact with individuals from national jurisdictions whose sentencing and penal decision-making is less well known internationally.

If you are interested in joining the WG please contact the WG Chair (Dr. Cyrus Tata). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Initial Members:

The following list of individuals is mainly composed of those participating in the sentencing 'stream' of pre-arranged panels for the 2010 ESC conference, and others who others who have requested to join at September 2010.

Cyrus Tata, University of Strathclyde, Scotland (Chair of the WG)

Kristel Beyens, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Belgium Miranda Boone, University of Utrecht, Netherlands
Andreia de Castro-Rodrigues, Universidade Fernando Pessoa, Porto, Portugal
Ioan Durnescu, University of Bucharest, Romania
Hank Elffers, Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime & Law Enforcement
Eef Goedseels, Department of Justice, Government of Belgium
Martine Herzog-Evans, University of Reims, France
Ville Hinkkanen, National Research Institute of Legal Policy, Finland
Les Humphreys, University of Lancaster, England & Wales
Jan de Keijser, University of Leiden, Netherlands
Fiona Jamieson, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
Elena Larrauri, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain
Miklos Levay, Etos Lorand University, and, Constitutional Court of the Republic of Hungary
Max D.P. Lowenstein, University of Bournemouth, England
Niamh Maguire, Waterford Institute of Technology, Republic of Ireland
Grazia Mannozzi, University of Insubria, Como, Italy
Tom O'Malley, University of Galway, Republic of Ireland
Christine Morgenstern, University of Griefswald, Germany
Julian Roberts, University of Oxford, England & Wales
Miroslav Scheinost, Institute of Criminology & Social Prevention, Czech Republic
Veerle Scheirs, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Marguerite Schinkel, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
Pauline Schuyt, University of Leiden, Netherlands
Rasmus Wandall, University of Copenhagen, Denmark