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Stéphanie Heinerman, alumna International Criminal Law, is a trainee prosecutor. She did not expect to work for the Public Prosecution Service during her studies. Stéphanie wanted to become a criminal lawyer, but in the end she feels this is a much better fit. 'From a broad perspective, I take into account the interests of all parties.'

‘As a student, I had an unsubtle image of the OM', says Stéphanie. 'They say in a reproachful way, with an upraised finger: you may do this, you may not do that, you did wrong. But not everyone is born with the same opportunities in life. When I was a student, I wanted to stand up for these people.'  

Stéphanie went to study law at the UvA because she wanted to do 'something with human rights'. 'I loved law from the very first moment', she says. All at once she understood the world better. 'For example, if I opened the newspaper and something happened in politics, I understood that it was based on a constitutional system. That is why law suited me. I could see it very well in a social perspective.' 

'Wow, fantastic city' 

She found criminal law most interesting: 'That tension between on the one hand the rights of the individual and on the other hand the importance of society and the government to create a safe society.' Nevertheless, after her Bachelor's she opted for the Master's in International Criminal Law, a joint programme with Columbia Law School. 'I also had an affinity with international law. The master's in International Criminal Law is a great combination.' According to Stéphanie, she was one of the first students to travel to New York. Her stay there is one of her fondest memories of her student years. 

'When I was there, I thought: wow, what a fantastic city', she says enthusiastically. Studying there was different from what she was used to in the Netherlands. She was challenged to think for herself. There were also many discussions. 'Discussing in another language is challenging and the people at the university there are very ambitious. Americans have to jump through countless hoops to be allowed to study at Columbia Law School. They have sacrificed a lot for it.' 

Introduction to real life 

After completing her studies, Stéphanie wanted to become a lawyer, but '2010 was a difficult time to get a job'. She calls it an introduction to real life. 'During your studies you have expectations, but reality turns out to be different', she explains. Fortunately, she found a great starting job at the Damage Fund for Victims of Violence. At the Damage Fund, victims of serious violent or sexual crimes can apply for financial compensation for the suffering they have suffered. 'I had to assess applications and write decisions, but I also had to phone victims', says Stéphanie. 'I learned a lot from it.' 

After two years, she made the switch to a law firm in criminal law. 'Suddenly you see the world of suspects. I enjoyed being a criminal lawyer and liked performing in court. But after a few years I found it too one-sided. I was only looking after the interests of my client. And that's the way it should be. But I felt the need to look at things from a broader, social perspective.' She decided to work for the Public Prosecution Service: 'I thought that was an exciting step.' 

The composition of the prosecutor's training depends on the experience you have and is truly tailor-made

Switch to Public Prosecution Service 

Stéphanie started working as a policy secretary at the Public Prosecution Service and was involved in the preliminary phase of criminal cases. For three and a half years, she was involved in investigating money laundering and corruption cases. 'It was here that I first became acquainted with criminal investigation', she says. 'I learned how these kinds of crimes are committed in large and international contexts and how to combat them.' Stephanie noticed that the Public Prosecution Service suited her well. 'I didn't plan on becoming an officer per se, but in my job at the public prosecutor's office I saw the public prosecutor's office up close and saw how versatile the profession is. I also liked the idea of leading an investigation.'  

In October 2020, Stéphanie was admitted to the OIO: the training for public prosecutors. The composition of the training depends on the experience you have and is truly tailor-made.' For her, this means that she gains experience within various components within and outside the Public Prosecution Service. Within the intervention environment of the Public Prosecutor's Office, for example, she gains experience with police court sessions, but also with so called ZSM services (Carefully, Quickly and Tailor-made, ed.). 'This is where common crime comes in', Stéphanie explains. 'I look at a case with colleagues from the police, probation and victim support services, among others, and take a decision as a public prosecutor. What happens to a case? Are we going to sue or not, for example? In addition, within the investigative environment of the Public Prosecutor's Office, I will gain experience in directing investigations and hearings at the three-judge criminal division.' You can also gain experience outside the OM. Stéphanie will work for some time as a deputy judge at a court of law. For others, this 'outside' experience may be different during the OIO training, for example in the legal profession or with the police. 

Challenging in a good way 

'The unsubtle image I had as a student of the OM, that raised finger, was not correct,' says Stéphanie. 'Of course a standard has been set that you want to hold people to and be able to call them to account about. At the same time, you also have to consider the rights of the suspect.' She continues: 'You want justice to be done to the whole case. So to the victim, to the public interest. But also to the suspect, so that he gets a fair trial and is heard in his criminal case, where personal circumstances are also taken into account. You have to weigh up all those interests as a prosecutor.' Stéphanie feels that this suits her much better than simply standing up for the interests of a client as a lawyer. 'I am a prosecutor, but I also have to find out the truth and be a magistrate. It is challenging in a good way. I have to weigh up all those interests, make choices and a decision, and also explain it well at the hearing.' 

She has noticed that she can put her need for socially meaningful work into practice. 'From a broad perspective, I take into account the interests of all parties.' She explains enthusiastically: 'I hadn't realised it, but when I had to give my motivation for the OIO, I noticed that I had already seen quite a lot of these perspectives. I could not imagine a better moment to become a prosecutor. It all came together.'