Sociology and the Law – or: Why Robbing a Bank in Vorarlberg is Better Than Robbing a Bank in Vienna.

Helmut Hirtenlehner, head of the new Institute for Procedural Justice since September 1, has been at the JKU for over 20 years. We recently spoke with him about the new institute and other topics.

Professor Helmut Hirtenlehner
Professor Helmut Hirtenlehner

Helmut Hirtenlehner (51) is from Linz and has conducted research on topics that include "conditional release" and criminal procedure reform. As a new professor for procedural justice, his activities now extend far beyond criminal law.

What exactly is procedural justice?
Prof. Helmut Hirtenlehner: Good question. There is no single, standard definition. The point is to explore the way procedures are actually carried out, whether in criminal law, private law, or other legal areas.

So how are procedural regulations applied in practice?
Prof. Helmut Hirtenlehner: Well, the law only gives us broad, general parameters. We see this when, for example, it comes to sentencing: Some offenses, for example, carry a prison sentence of between 5 and 10 years. How is it determined within that scope? How do evidentiary issues impact a trial? There are many, very pragmatic questions. For example, eastern Austria has harsher sentences for the same offense than western Austria does. We aim to explore the reasons why.

And what is so new about this field of research?
Prof. Helmut Hirtenlehner: There is an interdisciplinary character and this is key. Legal experts, sociologists, and practitioners use empirical methods to work together on the same topic, giving us a unique opportunity to go far beyond the main legal field.

What can your students expect in class?
Prof. Helmut Hirtenlehner: A lot of real-world relevance. I believe in conveying the reality of law, meaning, how is the law actually applied and what effect does it have? What can it accomplish and where does it fail? I also want to introduce young, prospective legal experts to empirical working methods.

Aside from the law and justice, what are your other interests?
Prof. Helmut Hirtenlehner: I read a lot and do martial arts. Currently I enjoy Kung Fu but I also have a black belt in karate.

What is your hope for the start of the new academic year?
Prof. Helmut Hirtenlehner: I hope we can hold classes on-site and in-person. It’s extremely important for me to be able to interact with students.

Downloads & Links

  • Learn more about the Institute for Procedural Justice at the JKU