Michael Joseph Naughton was born and raised in Nelson, Lancashire, by Irish parents. He attended Ss John Fisher and Thomas More Roman Catholic High School, Colne, Lancashire. He left school aged 16 and undertook an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering at a local aerospace engineering company. In all, he worked for four different companies during his engineering career, rising to foreman of two departments in the last company that he worked for – machine shop and maintenance department.
In his mid-20s, he took several BTEC courses in mechanical engineering related subjects at local colleges to enhance his engineering qualifications and progress his engineering career still further. He obtained A levels in mathematics (Burnley College) and sociology (Nelson and Colne College) and a qualification in computer literacy at this time, too.
In his early 30s, he suffered an industrial injury which cut his engineering career short, but became the catalyst for a change of direction that saw him utilise his qualifications and enrol for a degree in sociology at the University of Bristol as a mature student.
Michael graduated from the University of Bristol, UK, with a BSc First Class (Hons) in Sociology in 1996 and obtained a PhD in Sociology at Bristol in 2003. His PhD thesis was on the routine nature of miscarriages of justice as evidenced by successful appeals against criminal conviction and the extensive forms of harm that are caused by such miscarriages of justice to victims, their families and society as a whole from a zemiological perspective. In terms of theory, it also conceptualised the power relations at play utilizing ideas from Michel Foucault’s thoughts, particularly on power/knowledge and governmentality. It formed the basis of his first book: Rethinking Miscarriages of Justice: Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg (2007. Palgrave Macmillan).
In 2003-04, following his doctoral research, Michael succeeded in an application for a prestigious Postdoctoral Fellowship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which he undertook in the Department of Sociology, University of Bristol. This allowed him the support necessary to publish several articles in leading peer-reviewed academic journals and to devise and deliver his own undergraduate unit on crime and justice, which helped him to secure an academic post.
In 2004, Michael’s second career within academia formally began when, in his early 40s, the University of Plymouth offered him a Lectureship in Criminology. This prompted the University of Bristol to offer him a Lectureship in Sociology and Law with an innovative split role between the University of Bristol Law School and the Department of Sociology, which he accepted. He progressed to Senior Lecturer in 2007 and was promoted in 2012 to a Readership in Sociology and Law across the Law School and the then newly formed School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) (click here for his webpage on the University of Bristol website).
Michael has been married to his wife since 1986 and has two grown up children, a son and a daughter.
Michael’s professional activity includes a leadership role with five organisations relating to alleged factually innocent victims of wrongful conviction and/or imprisonment.
Since September 2019, he has been the Founder and Director of Empowering the innocent (ETI), a research and education organisation that engages widely on the causes of wrongful convictions and the barriers to them being overturned, with the overall aim of transforming the criminal justice system so innocent victims can overturn their wrongful convictions (click here for more information).
Between 2004-2015, he was Founder and Director of Innocence Network UK (INUK), which saw him facilitate the establishment of, and support the subsequent running of, a national network of a total of 36 innocence projects in UK universities and beyond (click here for more information).
Between 2005-2015, he was Founder and Director of the University of Bristol Innocence Project (UoBIP), the first innocence project in the UK established to investigate alleged wrongful convictions, which saw him pioneer a new form of pro bono clinical legal education in UK universities. The University of Bristol Innocence Project also became the template for member innocence projects under the auspices of Innocence Network UK (INUK) (click here for more information).
Between August 2014 – August 2015: Board Member, Innocence Network, an affiliation of organisations around the World dedicated to providing pro bono investigative services to individuals seeking to prove that they are innocent of criminal convictions (Click here for more information).
Between February 2004 – May 2013, he was a Founding Steering Group Member, Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI), which lobbies on behalf of prisoners maintaining innocence (‘Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence’ was the title of a public presentation that Michael gave on the challenges facing life-sentenced prisoners maintaining innocence at the request of Bruce Kent (PPMI’s first Chair). It led to the group being set up and gave PPMI its name) (Click here for more information).
Michael’s research takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the forms of injustice, social harm and state and conventional forms of crime committed against factually innocent victims of wrongful convictions that are caused, enabled and/or overlooked by the structures, procedures and/or operations of the criminal justice system, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Centring on successful appeals against criminal conviction and/or plausible claims of factual innocence by alleged victims of wrongful conviction and/or imprisonment unable to overturn their alleged wrongful convictions within the existing criminal justice system procedural arrangements, it straddles sociology, philosophy, critical criminology and socio-legal studies in the fields of criminal law and procedure, criminal appeals, evidence law, penology and zemiology (his doctoral thesis was the first piece of research on zemiology and the first to apply the approach to a social problem (miscarriages of justice), too).
He has researched and written extensively on the definition, causes, scale and harmful consequences of miscarriages of justice and/or wrongful convictions and the limitations and/or outright failings of the Parole Board, Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in dealing with claims of factual innocence by alleged innocent victims of wrongful conviction and/or imprisonment.
Another feature of his researches is an evaluation of the construction and deployments of forms of criminal justice system knowledge. This has included conceptual analyses of how ‘truth’, ‘justice’, ‘innocence’, ‘fairness’, ‘integrity’, ‘harm’ and ‘victim’ are understood and operationalized by competing criminal justice discourses and how they shape individual thinking and public attitudes and provide consent and legitimacy to governmental exercises of criminal justice system power.
The practical concern at the heart of his researches is always to identify any lessons that might be learned and translated into legislative and/or policy reforms that might redress the harms caused to innocent victims of wrongful convictions and/or prevent the wrongful conviction and/or imprisonment of innocent victims from occurring in the future.
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 over 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).
To share his research within academia, Michael has given over 20 refereed conference papers on his researches to leading academic conferences relating to his fields of interest, including to the annual conferences of the British Society of Criminology, European Society of Criminology, Socio-Legal Studies Association (SLSA), Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) and the European Group for the Study of Deviancy and Social Control (click here for details).
Michael has also given more than 50 invited presentations on issues relating to his research to professional, public and third sector conferences in the UK, including for LawWorks (Solicitors Pro Bono Group), PILnet (Public Interest Lawyers Network), Association of Prison Lawyers, Parole Board of England and Wales, Independent Monitoring Board for Prisons (IMB), Law Society for England and Wales, South West, Law Society of Wales, Law Society of Ireland, Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association (CALA), Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence (PPMI), Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO), United Against Injustice (UAI) and Falsely Accused Teachers and Carers (FACT) (click here for details).
Michael has been interviewed widely in national newspapers and television and radio programmes on his work and a range of criminal justice issues, including for The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, 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, as well as international newspapers, radio and television programmes in Norway, Armenia, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland (click here for details).
Michael has been invited to consult with Members of Parliament, Parliamentary Committees and criminal justice system policy makers domestically and internationally and to give presentations to a host of other specialist conferences and events. This includes giving oral evidence on his research to the UK Parliamentary Justice Committee, two invited presentations in the UK House of Commons, an invited presentation to the US. Department of Justice in Washington D.C., several other invited consultations and conference papers in the United States, China, Armenia, Italy, Norway, Canada, and several in Ireland.
These activities have contributed to several major reforms at home and abroad, including 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 the Bill for a new right of appeal for alleged victims of wrongful convictions in South Australia (click here further details).
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. Research is assessed 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 work was submitted by the University of Bristol as an Impact Case Study, ‘Innocence: assisting victims of wrongful imprisonment’, and was one of three which collectively were ranked as 2nd in the UK by the Sociology Panel.
Michael was also invited by both the Law School and the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS), University of Bristol, to develop his impacts for the Research Exercise Framework (REF) 2021.
Awards and Prizes
Michael has received a number of awards and prizes including:
- Attorney General’s Pro Bono Award
- Michael Young Prize, sponsored by the ESRC and The Young Foundation
- Bristol Law Society Annual Pro Bono Award
- University of Bristol Public Engagement Award
- Radical Statistics Group Critical Essay Prize