Law and Criminal Justice
Research in Law
The Faculty carries out intense research activity in the main fields of legal practice, particularly within its various centres and institutes.
The Faculty’s publications stand out by their scientific rigour, their originality and their openness to the world (foreign legislations, comparative, European and international law), to the future (environmental law, information and communication law, etc), and to related fields (interdisciplinary projects on complex cross-disciplinary questions).
The Faculty’s dynamic approach to research is underlined also by the number and quality of doctoral theses defended each year within its walls, and also by the participation of young researchers in different conferences or seminars and their collaboration in important publications.
Research in Criminology
The School of Criminal Justice (ESC) offers a multidisciplinary education par excellence. Research fuels this diversity with interests in criminal activity, its traces and definition, criminal behaviour and the consequences of crime, its investigation, law and procedure, its consequences in terms of security and prevention, demonstration of proof, and finally the consequences for the criminal, their punishment and rehabilitation. This multidisciplinarity is an integral part of the study of crime, together with its natural science and human science components.
Research follows 7 distinct themes:
Detection, reconstruction, association and evaluation, investigation, understanding crime, decision-making, and the development and validation of strategies:
1) Detection and recognition: aim to improve simultaneously the ability to detect the presence of latent traces and to recognise what best explains a presence or an action. They necessarily combine the development of new techniques and integration of the latter in a global approach to the field of investigation, the basis of which is yet to be consolidated.
2) Reconstruction: through reasoning that is essentially abductive at the outset, traces make it possible to imagine what happened. This attempt at reconstruction is generally part of a hypothetical-deductive approach involving the development and testing of scenarios. However it also entails a multitude of cognitive pitfalls which can be overcome by adopting a scientific approach.
3) Association and evaluation: the legal expert is responsible for evaluating and combining clues, or interpreting possible activities in the light of collected evidence. One dominant and cohesive movement advocates the use of probabilities (Bayes’ theorum) to carry out this evaluation, making it possible within a formal framework to express the uncertainties inherent in this type of question.
4) Investigation: The criminal investigation seeks to understand singular events, identify those involved, and outline their roles in accordance with a set of rules. Reasoning leads in two directions. Evidence gathered at the scene indicates what happened and helps to describe the relevant entities, or points directly to a series of individuals and objects. Conversely, reasoning often starts with groups of people, seeks to understand the relations between them and examines potential links with activities. The quantities of information that need to be managed and interpreted are sometimes large, requiring the construction of databases and the development of means to visualise complex information.
5) Understanding: Material traces are elementary units of information relating to an activity that takes place in an immediate physical and social environment, and are primarily concerned with security. Hypothetically, their use should therefore extend beyond the legal system, to the realm of information in general and the study of phenomena. It is here that forensic science and criminology come together to study security problems in the light of new information sets. The constitution of relevant databases is moreover a major feature of research in criminology.
6) Decisions: Those who work in the legal system take decisions at different levels. The distribution of roles and responsibilities follows procedures and forms of organisation which sometimes vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another. Wrong choices can ultimately lead to judicial errors. Since decisions are made on the basis of uncertain and incomplete information, the risk of error must be evaluated within well-regulated formal frameworks.
7) Development and testing of strategies: Strategies used to prevent danger or fight crime are constantly being revised according to new knowledge, assessments of their effectiveness, and sensibilities and perceptions within particular contexts. For example, munitions issued to police officers or the trust that can be placed in biometric identity controls are the subject of heated arguments that systematic research can place on a more rational level. Similarly, in a context often fraught with emotion, research in the field of the police and justice offers the means to adapt systems, to evaluate their results and how they work, and also to reflect on their underlying purpose.
Each of these themes is the subject of research summarised in a special edition of the Revue internationale de criminologie et de police technique et scientifique No. 42 (2009) pp. 5-128.
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