Joost in the Spotlight

Contributing to new legislation, remains a highlight in my career.

Joost Verbaan, LLM

Lecturer of Criminal (Procedural) Law and Head of Erasmus Centre for Penal Studies

Joost as a student

“I studied Law here in Rotterdam. I lived in Coolhaven but had friends with whom I always studied on Campus Woudestein or at EMC. I spent a lot of my time in the University Library. Usually, we would study during the day in the library, had dinner together and continued studying afterwards. I also went clubbing with this group of friends. For me, going out was an essential part of being a student.

Besides studying, I was a student assistant at the Criminal Law department, and I used to work out a lot. I joined The European Law Students’ Association (ELSA) in Rotterdam and Probus, the civil law association within JFR. Honestly, going out was my “main hobby”. I did that the most besides studying.

By working as a student assistant, I was already involved in many activities within the Criminal Law department, so I naturally became a part of a multitude of projects. I participated in many activities as a student assistant, and after I graduated, I continued to do so, but on a full-time basis. I do not have a spectacular story about finding my first job as I simply applied for a full-time position within the department.”

Contributing to new legislation remains a highlight of my career

“Soon after my appointment, I joined the Antillean project team, led by Hans de Doelder, Professor of Criminal (Procedural) Law at Erasmus School of Law. This team has contributed to the formation of the New Caribbean Penal Code, and the revision of the Caribbean Code of Criminal Procedural Law. At that time, I was in Curaçao six times a year for two or three weeks to write new legislation. After the Caribbean revision, Hans and I also wrote new legislation for the Penal Code of Suriname for a local legislative committee. In 2015, this code was adopted as active legislation.

I am most proud of the Penal Code’ revisions because we worked very hard and our propositions were adopted. We expect our revision of the Code of Criminal Procedural Law to be implemented any time now. Together with a small group of colleagues, we have worked on it for a long time, and it cost us a lot of time and effort. For example, we had been working on the Caribbean Penal Code between 2003 and 2013. Every occasion that our work becomes active legislation, it is a great compliment and a milestone in my career.”

Finding it difficult to say “no”

“Besides working on the project in the Caribbean, I am part of a multitude of projects. I have done much research for the police, Marechaussee (Dutch military police), FIOD (Fiscal Information and Investigation Service) and PwC. Also, since 2015, I am a deputy judge for the Rotterdam Court of Justice. I jump from one project onto another, which has been a constant throughout my career. Often, I cannot say “no”, and I should do it more often; however, I tend to find the projects very interesting and tempting.”

I aim to write as much as possible because I enjoy writing legal codes and books the most. In the past, I wrote columns for ‘de Havenloods’. I started after being interviewed by them about murder. They asked me if I would be interested in writing a weekly column for their magazine. I continued to do this for five years, after which I was ready for a new challenge.”

Writing and teaching is what I love the most

“I do not have a fixed work schedule. Most days start at 8.45 AM by turning on my computer and reading my emails. After which, I usually start writing. Every Tuesday, I write a newsletter for my website ‘SR Updates’ including the three most important verdicts of the Dutch Supreme Court in the previous week. Also, I teach a course biweekly, usually to practising lawyers. In the end, I spend most of my time writing, because I want to publish books. My passions are writing and teaching.”

Students and teachers are a union, without an authoritarian relationship

“My biggest challenge at this time is the felt gap between my students and me. It can be difficult to bond with students in a short period of five weeks. Students can easily find each other or the tutors, but it seems more challenging for the lecturers to connect with them. In particular with bachelor students as there are 800 of them. That creates a division and especially right now when all lectures are online.

Some students ask questions during my lecture or the breaks, but most ask their questions to tutors or other students in WhatsApp group chats. Honestly, I would like to be a part of those group chats, so I know what occupies them and which topics require more explanation in my lectures. It would also be beneficial for students because they would get a better idea of what is expected of them. Canvas might offer a possibility to chat but is used much less than WhatsApp.

You can clearly feel the division between teachers and students in the way students express their opinions about our exams and teaching. On occasion, we receive legal letters of complaint, which does bother me as it is not how I want to communicate with my students. In my opinion, students and teachers are a union, without the traditional authoritarian relationship. It is not like high school, where the teachers are in charge.”

It was like talking to a brick wall

“My workweek changed a lot due to the switch to online education. When we suddenly had to stay home as much as possible, it certainly took me some time to adapt. Luckily, the lecture rooms were already assigned to us and fitted with recording equipment. That is why we decided to proceed with the lectures on the planned dates, but with an online audience.

It felt quite bizarre to give a lecture in an empty hall. I did my first lecture on my own, but that quickly changed. I did not like to be alone in such ample space, because it feels like you are talking into the void. Also, every fifteen minutes, the lights would go out because the sensors did not detect any movement in the hall. If someone is there with you, that does not happen, and it feels less like talking to a brick wall.

It was very quiet on campus with everyone studying and working from home. I still had to be on campus to record my lectures, and sometimes I would come in early to get some work done in my office in Sanders Building. This way, I would not be bothered or distracted. When more people started to come to the campus, I did worry about maintaining our social distance. Luckily, we quickly set up a system within our department to notify colleagues about any plans to work on campus that day.”

Online education is a more significant burden for students than for teachers

“How our education will look like in the coming months depends on the speed of the vaccination program. After most people are vaccinated, I think everything will get back to ‘normal’ quite quickly. I expect that the social distancing will stay and that our education will remain online, at least in the short term.

Personally, online education does not bother me that much, and it is a more significant burden for the students than for the teachers. A big part of their study experience consists of getting together, meeting new people, and exchanging views in person. That is way harder with online courses and social distancing.”

My family is my biggest source of inspiration

“Whilst growing up, I looked at the way my parents and my uncles and aunts lived their lives and what they were doing. My family focuses on what interests and satisfies them. I have learnt that from a young age, and I am very proud of it.”

Most beautiful memory?

Marrying my wife;

What is your hobby?

Cycling;

What is your favourite book?

Charles Lewinsky’s ‘Het lot van de familie Meijer’, but I mostly read non-fiction, such as Hitler’s biography or ‘De Bourgondiërs’ by Bart van Loon;

What is your favourite movie?

Gattaca;

What is your favourite travel destination?Georgia, a diverse country with an excellent cuisine;
What did you want to be when you were young?

Fireman and later a businessman;

What is your favourite quote?

‘Tantae molis erat’, which translates to “that is how much effort it takes”. It was the title of a book in high school, and I often use it, also with my son. It means that nothing is ever easy;

Do you have a tip for students?

Whilst making choices, remind yourself of what you enjoy doing. Do not worry too much about your choices’ added value in the long run, because it is impossible to look into the future. It may sound fatherly, but everything changes, and you never know how things will work out.

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