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Abstract

The principle of nullum crimen sine lege expresses an old idea that only the law can prescribe a particular act as punishable. It is commonly understood as a requirement of sufficient definiteness of an offence, in particular – of a statutory description of an offence before it has been committed (lex scripta, lex praevia), and of clarity and precision in criminal provisions so as to enable an individual to conform with them (lex certa), as well as their strict interpretation (lex stricta). Nowadays the principle is an internationally recognized human right to foreseeable criminalization, guaranteed by, inter alia, Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the European Court of Human Rights seems to formulate two slightly different requirements on its basis, namely that the application of criminal law must be foreseeable for an individual and coherent with the “essence of an offence”. One may question whether this can serve as an adequate “shield” from arbitrariness on the part of State authorities. Nevertheless, the core aim of such a flexible approach is not to promote legal security for potential perpetrators, but to achieve better protection of human rights in general.
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Abstract

This article provides an overview of “memory laws” in Europe, reflecting upon what may be called the “asymmetry” of such laws. It then looks at the special case of Poland and its troubled experience with memory laws; it considers the question of whether, in the eyes of the law – genocide, and in particular the Holocaust – is so “special” that its public denials warrant legal intervention. It also looks at the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and its (not necessarily coherent) “doctrine” on memory laws and their consistency, or otherwise, with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (and in particular with freedom of expression as laid down in Art. 10). The article concludes by asserting that even if we take the law as an indicator of European public memory, there is no consensus on the past, except perhaps for the special case of the Holocaust. The main challenge lies in determining whether memory laws, defined by some as social engineering and the imposition of “imperative” versions of memory, are consistent with the principles inherent in open, democratic and free societies in Europe. This challenge remains unmet.
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