Dr Michael Naughton is a Reader in Sociology and Law across the Law School (click here) and the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) (click here), University of Bristol, UK.
He has researched and written extensively on the criminal justice system to emphasise the likely scale, causes and forms of harm associated with ‘miscarriages of justice’, with a particular focus on identifying and segregating within that category factually innocent victims of wrongful conviction and/or imprisonment.
His general approach is to distinguish between how the criminal justice process is supposed to work in theory and how it works in reality through a series of connected critical socio-legal analyses of its structures, procedures and working cultures. This has included analyses of the police, prosecution, prisons, parole, criminal appeals system and Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to explore the extent they align with lay notions of truth and social justice, from which he believes the criminal justice system should always be judged and held to account.
Another feature of his work is a social philosophical approach to the construction, methods and validity of forms of criminal justice system epistemology. This has included analyses of how core concepts such as ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘innocence’, ‘fairness’, ‘integrity’, ‘harm’ and ‘victim’ are understood and operationalized by competing criminal justice discourses, which are crucial in shaping individual thinking and public attitudes and in providing consent to governmental exercises of power in response to defined social and legal problematics.
Michael is the author or editor of four books: The innocent and the criminal justice system (2013, Palgrave Macmillan) (click here); Rethinking miscarriages of justice: Beyond the tip of the iceberg (2012 , Palgrave Macmillan) (click here); The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the innocent? (Editor, 2012 , Palgrave Macmillan) (click here); and, Claims of innocence: An introduction to wrongful convictions and how they might be challenged (with Tan, G., 2010, University of Bristol/LexisNexis) (click here).
In addition, he has 60 further publications in peer-reviewed academic journals, edited book collections, professional journals, broadsheet newspapers and official reports, many of which are freely available on this website (click here).
Between 2005-2015, Michael was Founder and Director of the first innocence project in the UK dedicated to investigating alleged wrongful convictions, the University of Bristol Innocence Project (UoBIP) (see here and here), which saw him pioneer the introduction of a new form of clinical legal education in the UK based on the innocence projects that originated in the United States. Under his supervision, student volunteers investigated alleged wrongful convictions on a pro bono (free for public good) basis, with input from criminal appeal lawyers and forensic experts where appropriate. In terms of “successes”, the University of Bristol Innocence Project contributed to the first ever case referrals by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (see R v Simon John Hall) and the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (see William Beck v Her Majesty’s Advocate) back to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and the High Court of Justiciary, respectively, following submissions or applications by a UK innocence project. It assisted two over tariff life-sentenced prisoners maintaining innocence to be progressed to open conditions. It, also, finally settled several claims of factual innocence by alleged victims of wrongful conviction and imprisonment when they were proven to be factually guilty. UoBIP became the template for the setting up of over 30 innocence projects in other universities in England, Scotland and Wales (see below).
Between 2004-2015, Michael was Founder and Director of Innocence Network UK (INUK) (click here), which saw him facilitate the setting up, and support the subsequent running, of a national network with a total of 36 Innocence Projects in the UK dedicated to investigating and overturning wrongful convictions. This included an innocence project in a corporate law firm, which was also a global first. In practical terms, Michael directed a team of staff and students from the University of Bristol Innocence Project to assess all applications to INUK for assistance from alleged victims of wrongful convictions for eligibility, referring over a hundred cases from almost 1,000 full applications (as well as thousands of other enquiries) to member innocence projects for further investigation. He also organised two annual training conferences a year over the life of the organisation, as well as several additional research symposiums and additional training events (click here). In December 2014, Dwaine George’s murder conviction was overturned, making him the first case overturned by an innocence project in the UK. It followed Mr George’s application to INUK, which was referred to a member innocence project, Cardiff (click here), to follow up on lines of further investigation identified by University of Bristol Innocence Project staff and students working for INUK at the University of Bristol.
In terms of public engagement, Michael has given invited oral and written evidence on his research to the UK Parliamentary Justice Committee, two invited presentations in the UK House of Commons, an invited submission to the UK Ministry of Justice, an invited presentation to the US. Department of Justice in Washington D.C., as well as several other invited consultations and conference papers in the United States, China, Armenia, Italy, Norway and several in Ireland (click here to go to “Public engagement and impact”). He has given around 50 invited presentations on issues relating to his academic research to public, professional and third sector conferences (click here to go to his CV). He has given over a hundred interviews in the media on a range of criminal justice issues, including for BBC 1, BBC Panorama, BBC Rough Justice, BBC News 24, ITV, GMTV, HTV, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and The Telegraph. And, he has also been interviewed for newspapers and appeared on television and radio programmes in Norway, Armenia, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland (click here to go to “In the media”) .
These activities have contributed to several major reforms domestically and internationally. This includes reforms to the prison rules on the treatment of prisoners maintaining innocence and to the Attorney General’s guidelines on disclosure and access to evidence post-conviction for alleged victims of wrongful convictions who seek to mount an appeal or make an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. He also influenced a new right of appeal for alleged victims of wrongful convictions in South Australia (click here to go to “Public engagement and impact“).
In recognition of the impact of his research and public engagement activities, Michael’s work was submitted by the University of Bristol as an Impact Case Study to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) (click here) in 2014. The REF was introduced as a system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions, which it does every 6 or 7 years. The REF 2014 was the first exercise to assess the impact of research outside of academia. Almost 7,000 Impact Case Studies were submitted to REF 2014 by universities in the UK. Michael’s case study, ‘Innocence: assisting victims of wrongful imprisonment’ (click here), was one of three which were collectively ranked as 2nd in the UK by the Sociology Panel.
Michael has received a number of awards and prizes including:
- Attorney General’s Pro Bono Award
- Bristol Law Society Annual Pro Bono Award
- University of Bristol Public Engagement Award
- Michael Young Prize, sponsored by the ESRC and The Young Foundation
- Radical Statistics Group Critical Essay Prize
Important note: Any views expressed on this website do not represent those of Michael Naughton’s employer.