The Reform of Criminal Law in the Austrian Monarchy (1852–1918).
Drafts, Discussions and Discourses

Duration: 2/2023 – 1/2026

Funding: Austrian Science Fund (FWF)


Short description:

The research project examines the plans to reform the Austrian criminal law and related scientific and political discussions during the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. The period of investigation begins with the enactment of the Criminal Code in 1852 and ends with the failure of the Habsburg monarchy's reform plans in the First World War.


Research questions:

The project focuses on four main areas: First, the administrative framework and operational procedures are outlined by presenting relevant drafts of new criminal codes, elaborated by individuals and commissions.

Furthermore, the study examines the broader context by considering foreign codifications of criminal law, in particular the German Criminal Code of 1871, which had an impact on Austrian legislative processes. Since the draft laws have been discussed in various public and scientific forums, but especially in academia and politics, these will be examined as a third topic.

Finally, the project focusses on the drafts of a new penal code, taking into account the "clash of schools" (Schulenstreit) between the positivist school and the classical school.



An important part of the project is the research in the Austrian State Archives and the Parliamentary Archives in Vienna, where important archival and printed historical sources, such as unpublished writings, reports and minutes of the committees involved in the revision of the drafts, are located. This project will not only examine for the first time archival sources that have not or hardly been considered by research so far but will also fill a gap in the history of Austrian criminal law, especially regarding reform projects since the 1860s. Many discussions held at that time have not lost their relevance, regarding for example the fundamental question of the purposes of punishment, such as deterrence, retribution, and correction. 



Project leader: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Dr. Martin P. Schennach, MAS

Postdoctoral researcher: Franziska Niedrist, MA


(International) Cooperation Partners:

Prof. Dr. Karl Härter (Max Planck Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, Frankfurt a. M.)

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Becker (University of Vienna)

Dr. Francesca Brunet (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano)

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Andreas Venier (University of Innsbruck)


Univ. -Prof. DDr. Martin P. Schennach, MAS

Head of the Institute for Roman Law and Legal History at the University of Innsbruck

Innrain 52, A-6020 Innsbruck

Tel: +43 512 507-80004

Mail: Franziska Niedrist, MA

Institute for Roman Law and Legal History at the University of Innsbruck

Innrain 52, A-6020 Innsbruck

Tel: +43 512 507-80011


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