International Max Planck Information System for Comparative Criminal Law

This project constitutes the cornerstone of the Institute’s research focuses on comparative criminal law and the international harmonization of criminal law.


The im­port­ance of com­par­at­ive crim­in­al law and its meth­od­o­lo­gic­al un­der­pin­nings has in­creased sig­ni­fic­antly as a res­ult of changes due to glob­al­iz­a­tion. A com­pre­hens­ive, sys­tem­at­ic com­par­is­on of a mul­ti­tude of crim­in­al law sys­tems is an es­sen­tial pre­requis­ite for the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of changes in crim­in­al law in­ter­na­tion­ally, for the for­mu­la­tion of gen­er­al leg­al prin­ciples, and for the design of fu­ture crim­in­al policy. Yet it is still un­clear wheth­er such a “uni­ver­sal com­par­is­on” of crim­in­al law is the­or­et­ic­ally or prac­tic­ally feas­ible. The Max Planck In­sti­tute in­tends to ex­plore this and re­lated is­sues in its pro­ject “In­ter­na­tion­al Max Planck In­form­a­tion Sys­tem for Com­par­at­ive Crim­in­al Law.”

The pro­ject’s chief ob­ject­ives are to de­vel­op an in­ter­na­tion­al meta-struc­ture of crim­in­al law and to draft a can­on of in­ter­na­tion­al crim­in­al law. In a first step, the study will de­term­ine wheth­er, giv­en the di­versity of crim­in­al law sys­tems around the world, it is pos­sible to elu­cid­ate an over­arch­ing struc­ture that can serve as the basis of a sys­tem­at­ic and func­tion­al leg­al com­par­is­on. Such a meta-struc­ture is a pre­requis­ite for ana­lyz­ing ap­proaches ad­op­ted around the world to date, identi­fy­ing com­mon leg­al prin­ciples, and draft­ing an in­ter­na­tion­al can­on of crim­in­al law and in­ter­na­tion­al mod­el codes. A group of crim­in­al law com­par­at­iv­ists at the Max Planck In­sti­tute in Freiburg set out to craft such a uni­ver­sal meta-struc­ture for the gen­er­al part of the crim­in­al law. They tested their pro­posed struc­ture by us­ing it as the basis for coun­try re­ports on 12 rep­res­ent­at­ively se­lec­ted leg­al sys­tems.

In ad­di­tion to its ba­sic re­search goals, the pro­ject has a prac­tic­al, ap­plic­a­tion-ori­ented ob­ject­ive, namely, the de­vel­op­ment of an in­form­a­tion sys­tem for the com­par­is­on of the crim­in­al laws of the leg­al sys­tems un­der study. The idea is to pro­duce both a com­pre­hens­ive en­cyc­lo­pe­dia of crim­in­al law around the globe – thereby meet­ing the chal­lenge posed by Pro­fess­or Claus Rox­in in 1999 when he called for a tra­di­tion­al com­pen­di­um of crim­in­al law as the “fu­ture task of glob­al crim­in­al law sci­ence” – and, as the highly-struc­tured col­lec­tion of data evolves, to cre­ate an elec­tron­ic sys­tem for use on the In­ter­net that will con­trib­ute to ad­vances in com­puter-based com­par­at­ive crim­in­al law. The sys­tem is freely ac­cess­ible at in­ The goal is to fa­cil­it­ate the ana­lys­is of par­ti­cip­at­ing leg­al sys­tems on the basis of their coun­try re­ports not only in full text and with the help of a hier­arch­ic­ally-struc­tured clas­si­fic­a­tion sys­tem but also by means of meta-para­met­ers that have been for­mu­lated us­ing tech­niques of com­par­at­ive law. Ul­ti­mately, this in­form­a­tion sys­tem will evolve in­to a tool that makes en­tirely new kinds of com­par­at­ive ana­lyses pos­sible.

Res­ults of the pi­lot pro­ject – a total of five Ger­man-lan­guage volumes – were pub­lished in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Mean­while, a second group of re­search­ers has em­barked upon an­oth­er round of test­ing of the meta-struc­ture. This second group, writ­ing in Eng­lish, is tasked with pre­par­ing coun­try re­ports on 13 more leg­al sys­tems. Ad­di­tion­al coun­try re­port­ers have joined the pro­ject over the course of time. The en­su­ing com­par­at­ive leg­al ana­lys­is will serve as the first build­ing blocks of an in­ter­na­tion­al can­on of crim­in­al law. Thus, this pro­ject con­sti­tutes the corner­stone not only of the In­sti­tute’s re­search fo­cus on com­par­at­ive crim­in­al law but also of its fo­cus on the in­ter­na­tion­al har­mon­iz­a­tion of crim­in­al law.