This module is a resource for lecturers  


Key issues


Why are standards and norms important?

On a daily basis, across the globe, justice needs arise in a broad range of settings:

  • Victims or survivors of violence need access to justice, which may involve: security, legal protection; access to health and/or victim services; as well as accountable police, forensic, and prosecutorial services that undertake criminal investigations and prosecutions in a diligent, timely, and sensitive manner;
  • Witnesses to criminal acts need a range of safeguards to ensure their safety and to ensure that they are not (re)traumatized by their involvement in legal processes as witnesses; (moreover, additional and important safeguards apply for child witnesses and witnesses who are deemed vulnerable);
  • Individuals suspected of engaging in crime need an awareness of their rights if they are to seek and receive impartial and effective legal advice and due process of law; among these rights are that they be treated in a manner consistent with the inherent dignity of the human person;
  • Persons facing adjudication need strong and accountable justice institutions that uphold the rule of law, including through the application of the principle of equality before the law;
  • Persons convicted and sentenced for a breach of penal law need proportionate sentencing that is free from discrimination, and they need access to rehabilitation services that promote their prospects for meaningful reintegration into society; and
  • Individuals who have engaged in crime, individuals who are at risk of crime and, indeed, each member of society, needs robust crime prevention measures that address the root causes of crime and promote equality of opportunity within strong communities that are bound by shared values of gender equality, non-discrimination, community cohesion, and a culture of lawfulness.

Despite the density of justice needs, globally, individuals very often face challenges in accessing justice, or they endure harm as a result of their contact with justice systems. The various challenges that lead to compromised justice processes and outcomes include: lack of services; poverty; inequality; corruption; the criminalization of victims; deficiencies in law or procedure; undue delays or overly expedient processes; overreliance on punitive approaches; and harmful stereotypes or social norms that bear discriminatory effects.

This complex mix of challenges points to the importance of internationally agreed minimum standards that ensure the equal human dignity of all (including those in contact with the law as victims, witnesses, and individuals accused or recognized as having breached penal law). As a matter of international agreement, the UN standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice build on the legally binding provisions of various human rights treaties, to elaborate a range of rules and minimum safeguards in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice. By setting standards for the treatment of individuals in contact with the law, these authoritative normative texts serve as a powerful affirmation of our common humanity and the importance, for all humanity, of rules and minimum standards to safeguard human dignity.

It is, therefore, with the human dimensions of the standards and norms in mind that this Module has been developed. Accordingly, the Module does not promote rote learning of the extensive protections enumerated by the standards and norms. Rather, materials are provided that lecturers can use to engage students’ interest in the fundamental importance of the standards and norms and the functional contexts in which these apply. The 13 additional Modules that comprise the E4J University Module Series on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice delve into the application of the relevant UN standards and norms in further detail, and seek to provide the knowledge and skills that will allow the next generation of justice actors to effectively uphold, and continue to shape, the globally agreed minimum standards relevant to the field of crime prevention and criminal justice at the national and international levels.


The Module comprises three topics:


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