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Research Spotlight: Gudrun Hochmayr

Foto_Hochmayr ©Heide Fest

Dear Professor Hochmayr, 

You recently organized an international conference on the harmonization of the statutes of limitation of criminal offenses at the Viadrina. Could you briefly summarize the subject of the conference?

The conference was part of a three-year research project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). In this project we examine the statutes of limitation of 14 countries, with the aim of suggesting a proposal for their harmonization. The reason for the project in general and this conference in particular are the significant differences existing in the European Union regarding the limitation periods for criminal offenses. By means of a case-by-case comparison of the different criminal law jurisdictions, we were able to show that there is a difference up to 12 years concerning the entry of limitation for one and the same fraud case in the examined EU member states; this is true for cases not leading to prosecution. In cases in which prosecution is initiated in due time, these divergences increase to up to 30 years in our case study.

At the outset of the conference, we discussed the consequences of these strongly diverging statutes of limitation for intergovernmental cooperation within the EU. In this context, we also addressed the question whether the limitation of criminal offenses is, contrary to the tradition of continental criminal law, still appropriate today. We then analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of the regulations in different countries. The conference culminated in the discussion of the prepared proposal for harmonization. As none of the 14 examined statutes of limitation proved ideal, there was considerable need for consultation. Thus, we had to try to create the “best” solution from the components of the existing regulations.

What caused the international attention for this conference, in your opinion?  

The limitation of criminal offenses is a highly relevant subject in many countries. As a matter of fact, in Italy, for example, the statutes of limitation have been discussed at the European Court of Justice and the Italian Constitutional Court in the past few years.

However, in some countries, the concept of limitation is met with increasing skepticism, and many scholars as well as practitioners demand its abolishment, at least for certain criminal offenses (e.g., sexual offenses against minors). This approach, in turn, is faced with difficulties in criminal prosecution as we can observe in domestic legal systems in which criminal offenses cannot expire by limitation, or in which the statutes of limitation have been driven back significantly. In addition to problems with evidence, which arise in cases of heavily dated offenses, there is also a problem of resources: unless the funds available for prosecution are increased, the prosecution of older cases will presumably negatively affect current cases. 

At the Viadrina, we would wish for to engage in more successful research activities like this. What can the university do, in your opinion, to better support researchers in this respect?

Next to teaching duties and the tasks of academic self-government, it is difficult to find the necessary capacities for a major research project. The option of an additional research sabbatical for such projects would thus be desirable. The measures implemented by the presidential board of the university with the guideline “Incentives for the successful acquisition of third-party funds for research purposes” are, in my view, definitely a step into the right direction. Additionally, it is crucial for successful research to keep at least the semester break free of teaching events and examinations, and to reduce tasks of academic self-government. Of course, the staffing of the chairs is decisive for their research output, as well. 

Early career researchers must assert themselves in an increasingly competitive environment today. Do you have any advice for researchers in the qualification period at the Viadrina in terms of career planning?

The enthusiasm for research and science should always stand at the beginning of a successful academic career. It is a privilege of Academia that we can choose our research subjects independently and get to the bottom of things. You should only decide for this path if immersing yourself in a subject truly appeals to you. 

My recommendation to early career researchers is to put quality before quantity when it comes to publications. I am observing a change of thinking in commissions, which increasingly pay attention to whether research provides substantial advances.  

In any case, academic networks are helpful. Whether you prefer to be traditionally integrated at a chair or whether you venture into early independence in the framework of a tenure-track position really depends on the person. Finally, you need a “plan B” in case an academic career does not work out.

Thank you very much for answering our questions.