I joined the Faculty of Social Sciences in September 2023. I previously worked at The University of Liverpool, the University of Nottingham, Loughborough University, the University of Southampton, Swansea University, and Teesside University. I am a member of the British Society for Criminology Learning and Teaching Network (which I chaired between 2014 and 2018); the European Society for Criminology Collateral Consequences of Criminal Records Working Group; and the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. Between 2014 and 2018 I served as secretary and international conference organiser for the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty Group (SORU), which is affiliated to the International Sociological Association (ISA), the European Sociological Association (ESA), and the Australian Sociological Association (TASA). I am a member of the ESRC Peer Review Collage, and a reviewer for the Journal of Medical Regulation, Medical Law Review, the British Journal of Criminology, Sociological Review Online and the Sociology of Health and Illness.
My background is interdisciplinary, crossing critical criminology and the sociology of deviance, socio-legal studies, sociological theory, the sociology of the professions, and the sociology of risk. I have published widely on the professions, their regulation, and the role they play in the day-to-day public administration of risk within civil society. I am particularly interested in what happens when a professional practitioner - such as a doctor, teacher, social worker, or police officer - makes a mistake, or intentionally causes harm, when delivering essential public services. For the last twenty-five years I have worked with practitioners, offenders, victims, and their families, as they participate in occupational tribunal and court hearings. But I began my academic career at the University of Liverpool in the mid-1990s, conducting ethnographic research exploring the care and treatment of mentally disordered offenders in Liverpool prison and Merseyside courts. I have also critically examined the increasing public policy role sports-based interventions have played in promoting diversionary principles within youth justice and community policing. This, in turn, led me to examine the methodological utility of linked-administrative datasets for exploring why pupils from socially disadvantaged and marginalised communities might enter educational trajectories which may lead to school exclusion and (re)entry into the youth justice system.
I have published widely on the value of administrative data, secondary datasets, and quantitative methods, for enhancing the criminological imagination and academic study skills within the social sciences. I have long advocated for the use of reflective practice, visual/auditory tools, and digital learning strategies, when supporting students in their studies. Between 2012 and 2014, I conducted UK Research Council funded research (ESRC, ES/J011452/1) which explored how data visualisation and socio-ecological forms of criminological theory can be used to ameliorate statistical anxiety amongst social science students. I have also published research exploring staff experience of performance appraisal in both higher education and the medical profession. Past administrative roles include acting as undergraduate and postgraduate programme lead, head of department, postgraduate research director, REF lead, university ethics committee chair, and research centre lead. In this latter role, I oversaw the professional development and grant capture activity of over forty members of academic staff (from lectureship to professorial grade) in Criminology, Sociology, Public Policy, Education, Social Work, History, English, and Creative Writing. In my previous capacity as chair of the British Society of Criminology Learning and Teaching Network, I oversaw the organisation of the annual excellence award for teaching criminology and criminal justice. I have also acted as an external examiner and chaired degree validation and revalidation committees at several universities, including Lancaster, Hull, and Bournemouth.
My main contribution to the field of the sociology of punishment lies in my analysis of the role elite professional occupations play in the state administration of essential public services, particularly in the fields of medicine and criminal justice. My doctorate focused on the socio-legal rules state-licensed regulatory institutions use when the rules governing the delivery of public services break down, require investigation, and if necessary, legislative and administrative reform. I traced how from the early 1960s onwards, a series of NHS coverups and whistleblowing cases led to regulatory tribunal hearings becoming more frequent, publicly accountable, subject to state-oversight and neoliberal performance management, and perhaps most importantly, more punitive, surveillance heavy, and risk-adverse. I have always been fascinated by what happens at the edges of the criminal justice system, outside of media court reporting. High-profile media cases such as Harold Shipman and Lucy Letby to one side, the day-to-day operation of tribunal hearings has been subject to little academic scrutiny by British sociologists and criminologists.
My postdoctoral work explored victims lived experience of hearings and the secondary harms these unique systems of justice can cause. I concluded that successive reforming and modernising agendas from the 1970s onwards - not matter how well-intentioned - have failed to fix systemic failings in our regulatory institutions. A structurally siloed approach to professional training and regulation still underpins the complex socio-legal architecture which governs the day-to-day delivery of professional work in the UK public sector. For example, tribunal hearings possesses discretionary privilege, including for cases where a doctor obtains a criminal conviction. For many occupations, possession of a criminal record leads to an automatic bar from the workplace. But my research showed this was not necessarily the case for professions such as medicine. Over a ten-year period, a thousand doctors with criminal records were allowed to continue to practice medicine, including after committing serious violent crimes . Operating at the periphery of the criminal justice system, the penalties imposed by tribunals encompass both popular punitive and pro-social reintegrative penological discourses. My work concluded that a radical review of hearings is needed to address public interest and social justice concerns surrounding their procedural fairness. Particularly when they hear cases involving vulnerable victims of crime, families from socially marginalised and disadvantaged communities, or a practitioner whose professional performance has been affected by changes in their physical or mental health.
In 2019, I published a report for Welcome which examined the impact of big data, data science and artificial intelligence, on the future of professional regulation. As part of my work for this, I undertook the largest ever statistical analysis of tribunal hearings across multiple professional regulators, including the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and the Health and Care Professions Council. I discovered it was possible to track and predict the likelihood of tribunal hearings, based on contextual risk factors present within an NHS hospital site, such as poor on-site routine administrative reporting of local patient safety incidents. This predictive model was independently replicated in 2021 by the Regulatory Intelligence Unit of the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
At present, I am exploring how automation, AI, and transformative digital justice agendas can cause secondary harm to vulnerable victims of crime. Particularly in the context of post-covid case backlogs, public sector cutbacks, the cost-of-living crisis and rising digital poverty, as well as growing public distrust in political institutions, public services, and experts. This has led me to expand my work to include the pre/post-covid development of virtual courts across the justice system, including in specialist domestic abuse courts in Scotland. This project is sponsored by Edinburgh Women’s Aid and is being completed against the background of the Virtual Trials National Project Board. This concluded in 2022 that technologically enabled court hearings could support vulnerable victims of crime and recommended the establishment of virtual domestic abuse summary trial courts in each sheriffdom. An initial progress report of findings will be published in 2024.