Foundations and Methods of Law

The department of Foundations and Methods of Law studies the foundations and methods of law from a fundamental legal and meta-legal perspective. It also conducts research and teaches in the field of legal history, philosophy of law, jurisprudence, private law, and social sciences.

Legal historians study the genesis of law, and in doing so aim to achieve a better understanding of prevailing doctrines. In addition, legal history helps to expose and explain the relationship between the different European and non-European legal systems. This also allows the identification of paths towards future harmonised law in Europe and beyond. The topicality of these issues speaks for itself, not only within the European Law School but also in the context of the Dutch Law programme, in which European and global perspectives are gaining interest.

Philosophers of law look for answers to questions about the nature of law and its desirable content, relatively dissociated from what present prevailing law dictates. Such questions include how law differs from morality, whether there is a duty to obey the law, what justifies the existence of the state, why people can be punished for doing wrong, why agreements are binding, and why the state is allowed to collect taxes.

Where the philosopher of law mainly focuses on normative questions regarding the law, the legal theorist turns his attention more to the reasoning of the jurist and the general characteristics of legal systems. Typical jurisprudential questions are how to correctly interpret legal rules, whether it is possible to set aside legal rules or declare them non-binding, and what are rights and how do they relate to duties and responsibilities. Logic and philosophy of law could also be regarded as part of jurisprudence.

The proceduralist studies prevailing systems of civil procedural law in the field of private law. In the context of a scientific approach, the emphasis is placed on the foundations of procedural law, such as the principle of hearing both sides of the argument, judicial independence and impartiality, administration of justice within a reasonable period of time, and party autonomy (or not). Ideally, it is not only about Dutch civil proceedings taking a central role, but having a comprehensive approach in which Dutch procedural law is set in the context of the large global trends within procedural law. It is the historical context that forms an invaluable link in this matter.

The social-scientific study of law encompasses economic, sociological and administrative approaches. The economic analysis interprets law as a method for dealing with scarce resources. As such, it is meaningful to wonder whether liability based on fault or strict liability has a more positive effect on e.g. children or animals from a societal perspective. Sociologists of law attempt to explain why various countries and social groups interpret law differently as a result of differences in culture, organisation, economic development, and the distribution of power and wealth. A topic of research, for example, is why some groups (are able to) appeal to judges, lawyers and other legal assistance more and some less. The social effects of legal rules (law in action instead of black letter law) are also an important subject to sociologists of law.

Administrative specialists can also partially be placed in the category of “social-scientific study of law”. These specialists study the political and social effects of various methods of organising public administration. Related research questions could be: “Can local democracy be improved by means of a referendum?”, “What does ‘careful and sound administration’ mean in practice against the background of regulations, and how can relating problems be dealt with?”, “What possibilities and problems do governments have when establishing contacts abroad?”, or “What is the effect of European regulations on local and provincial levels?”. Public law (constitutional and administrative law) offers a starting point and framework for questions about social, political and administrative practice.

Members of the department work in all aforementioned fields, albeit that—naturally—not all possible research themes are covered. The main points of the department's research are the nature of legal science and general concepts of (private) law, the history of private law in the Netherlands and Europe and the legal history in Limburg, principles and foundations of civil procedural law, local and regional administration, the effectiveness of regulations, and the influence of organisations on law and society.

However, it is more important for students to know that they can consult department members in all fields mentioned above.

In the bachelor curriculum, the department is responsible for the courses Legal History, Moot Court, Metajuridica, and States, Markets & European Integration. It also plays an important part in the Introduction course and the practical. Furthermore, the department is responsible for the legal-historical part of the courses European and International Law and Comparative Contract Law. The department also provides the course Comparative Civil Procedure.


The department Foundations and Methods of Law covers courses that studies applicable legal rules from fundamental, meta-juridical perspectives, rather than non-legal disciplines. Central themes include questions about the historical and social backgrounds and functions of regulations (legal history and social-scientific study of law), about the instruments of law and legal science (logic, conceptual framework) (jurisprudence), or about the normative foundations of law and the state (philosophy of law). As such, it concerns courses in which questions are asked about law from disciplines that are taught at other faculties (sociology, economics, the political and administrative sciences, historical sciences and philosophy). Also on offer are purely legal courses, such as civil procedural law and legal dogmatics from a historical perspective.

The department is well-represented in all these fields in both teaching and research. Below you will find a brief presentation. 
General speaking, it can be said that the department provides a broad intellectual and social-cultural basis for legal thinking. It involves courses that appeal to anyone who is not just interested in the question why law is structured the way it is, but who wants to know more about the functioning of law within the social reality or is fascinated by the question how to convincingly reason in law and which deeper levels of justification of legal rules you can use to achieve this. In short, the department focuses on students who want to know the law in its entirety and from a broad social and scientific perspective.

Legal history

The goal of legal history is to provide insight into the genesis of modern-day law. Legal-historical knowledge leads to a better understanding of the aforementioned law. A large amount of chronological and thematic approaches can be distinguished within legal history, in both teaching and research, such as Roman law, reception history, history of public law, history of criminal law, and local and regional legal history.

The studying of these subjects is accompanied by the requirement to look beyond (today's) national borders. The examination of legal history is therefore not just “useful”, but even vital to jurists who will explore a market that is being controlled more and more by Brussels regulations. And not only does this apply to European Law School students, it also goes for students in Dutch Law, who, in their professional practice, will frequently be confronted with law from Europe and beyond. This is one of the reasons why teaching of legal history is given a great deal of attention in Maastricht.

The section provides teaching in legal history in the Dutch Law bachelor, Tax Law and European Law School. In the first place, there is a first-year course in Legal History. Secondly, legal history is discussed in the way of lectures that are offered throughout the bachelor phase (varying subjects). Furthermore, the section provides teaching in the history of public law during the course European and International Law, and in the history of private law during the course Comparative Contract Law. The course Metajuridica also contains a heavy legal-historical component. Additionally, the section offers the Comparative Civil Procedure elective, which also covers the history of civil procedural law in Europe. Among other things, the history of civil procedural law is important in the context of proposals for harmonisation of procedural law in the European Union. Harmonisation can be simplified if there is sufficient awareness as to the extent of relativity of the various procedural laws in Europe. The course also offers an introduction into civil procedural law in England and Wales, Germany and France. This course is strongly recommended for any student who aspires a career in practice.

The section legal history conducts research in the context of the Ius Commune Research School (including in the programme Foundations and Principles of Civil Procedure in Europe).


The economic backgrounds of law in general and of the European Union are the focus in the courses Metajuridica and States, Markets & European Integration respectively. 

Jurisprudence in a more narrow sense is covered during the Introduction course through general concepts of law and judicial construction, and the first-year practical.

Legal-philosophical questions, mainly regarding the nature of law, are discussed in the bachelor elective course Legal Philosophy and also slightly in the Introduction course.

Political Sciences

Political sciences contain three sub-disciplines: political science, public administration and international relations. Two of these disciplines are represented at the Faculty of Law. The study of international relations is housed at the department of International and European Law, and Public Administration at the department of Foundations and Methods.

Public Administration 
Public administration is sometimes described as the science that studies the establishment and operation of the public administration sector, which includes authorities and the civil service. In that respect, Public Administration mainly focuses on practical issues related to the organisation, management and policy of organisations in this sector, all in relation to the environment of public administration.

Research in the public administration sector of the department Metajuridica is housed at the Centre for Local and Euregional Studies (CELS). Researchers from the Open University (OU) in Heerlen also participate in this centre. Here research is conducted in the field of local and regional administration from an international and comparative perspective, such as cross-border cooperation, or the involvement of decentralised governments at the European Union. 

Administrative specialists contribute to the programme during the course Metajuridica.