by Nestor E. Courakis,
Professor of Criminology & Penology
Faculty of Law, University of Athens (GR)
We must congratulate the organizers of today’s event, especially Prof. C. Spinelli and Associate Prof. M. Kranidiotis, for their initiative in prompting discussion on Code of Ethics for criminologists on par with respective Codes for psychologists, sociologists and social workers. The question mark in the event’s title: "Code of Ethics for Criminologists – a moral project for the 21st century?" gives us a glimpse of the fluid and controversial nature surrounding the issue. This prompts questions that defy short answers: Firstly, do we need a Code of Ethics when most of the issues are established in legal regulations (e.g. the right to privacy) or self-evident, e.g. that the criminologist must have the purpose to seek the truth and the freedom to assess the findings of this search (Max Weber). Given that such a code is useful, why not formulate a general code of conduct for all social scientists (psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, social workers etc.) with unified and integrated rules that govern, for example, the conduct of scientific research, or confidentiality with respect to business secrets? And yet a third question: For such a Code, how may we define Criminologists, and are there sufficient numbers of these professionals in Greece to warrant the need for such a Code for that particular group of scientists?
These questions imply that discussions of a Code of Ethics for Criminologists is rather premature. However this impression is not correct. Starting with the last question, we believe that the recent graduates in Criminology (Kapodistrian University of Athens, Panteion, Univeristy of Athens, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Democritus University of Thrace, etc.) is sufficient both in numbers and competence, as can also be said for Greek Criminology graduates studying abroad. Although many of these students usually find work in other fields, they remain as scientists who conduct research and publish studies. This calls for a Code of Ethics that clarifies the researcher’s duties and obligations. Certainly in such a Code, and to answer the first question, there must be legal guidelines and competent "bodies" to regulate the conduct of scientific research of colleagues, the authorities, and society. It is desirable that the operations of these oversight bodies are clearly recorded, as this will not only serve as a comprehensive record, but also help identify some perhaps less-competent bodies, which criminologists should avoid, such as those which may wrongly credit authorship of an idea by other scientists or that avoid the assessment of past situations and events with evaluative criteria of today (ie not "condemn" a priori the physical or other harsh punishments of the past using contemporary democratic and humanitarian principles, but to consider them in their historical context). Besides, beyond these more or less "obvious" public bodies there are some other aspects that "raise" a lot of discussion and which, nevertheless, deserve to be clarified in a Code of Conduct. These include the degree of objectivity required of the Criminologist, or if on the contrary to defend, through their research, more "militant" ideas (the familiar problem of the “The Suspended Step of the Criminologist”...)
The middle question posed is also crucial, i.e. the need for a universal code of conduct for social scientists. Naturally it is correct to adopt a uniform set of rules on matters incident to social science, at the scientific level and in the professional sphere. Indeed, for this second category an important text has already been published under the title, "European Chart of Research and Code of Ethics for the Recruitment of Researchers (2005/251/EC), published in the Official Journal of the European Union, 22.3.2005, L 75/67-77 and its website:http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriserv/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2005:075:0067:0077:EL:PDF
It should however be noted here that the work of the Criminologist entails greater specificity and diversity than that of other social scientists: that is to say the criminologist deals with criminals, prisoners, delinquents and socially divergent and / or excluded persons, i.e. people who are in disadvantageous positions who cannot operate "on an equal footing" with the scientist before them. Even though the general ethical principles are basically the same for all social scientists (respect for the dignity of the parties, accountability, extended responsibility, fairness, etc.), in the case of Criminologists these principles must be applied with greater rigor, taking the particularities of each case into account in order to avoid any possible suspicion of exploitation of those included in his research field.
The question arises finally as to which body may adopt and enforce such a Code of Ethics in Greece. My opinion is that the Greek Society of Criminology in conjunction with the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology Research may indeed suggest such a code, with conformity achieved with a voluntary-commitment basis enforcement of penalties, and with the sole ambition of commitment on the part of those to whom the Code is addressed (something similar has been done successfully by the British Society of Criminology:http://www.britsoccrim.org/ethical.htm). This step may seem small compared with the Codes ratified in other professions, such as doctors and lawyers, but it is a first step in the right direction...