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James Thornton

Dr James Thornton FHEA

Senior Lecturer

Nottingham Law School

Staff Group(s)
Nottingham Law School staff


Dr James Thornton is a Senior Lecturer in Law and member of the Centre for Rights and Justice.

His chief area of interest is criminal law, which he teaches on the LLB, PGDL and LLM courses. He also teaches criminology and criminal justice to final year LLB students. He carries out research projects on criminal law and criminal justice issues and supervises undergraduate, masters and doctoral student research projects. He is also Course Leader for the full-time Postgraduate Diploma in Law and LLM (Law and Legal Practice) courses.

Potential doctoral students (PhD or Prof Doc) are very welcome to get in touch to discuss ideas. He would be especially interested in any student projects analysing the working practices of practitioners in legal settings (lawyers, judges, probation etc.) and how these are influenced (e.g. by internal or external pressures). Projects concerning the criminal justice system, access to justice and legal aid more broadly would also be very interesting.

Career overview

James read Law at University of Southampton, graduating with 1st class honours. He was then awarded a Vice Chancellor/Presidential Scholarship in order to research his PhD there. At Southampton, he also worked as a Research Assistant for criminal justice and medical law projects, taught criminal law and equity & trusts, and was joint-manager of the Law School’s housing and employment pro bono legal advice service.

He first joined Nottingham Law School as a Lecturer and was then promoted to Senior Lecturer. His research has been published in world leading international legal journals, cited in Parliament and used by Government to inform policy change (e.g. Criminal Legal Aid Review and House of Commons Justice Select Committee).

Research areas

Broadly, James’ research examines the working practices of people in legal settings and how these are influenced – particularly how pressures are managed and decisions are made. He does so mainly through empirical methods, such as interviews and focus groups with affected people.

He is interested primarily in the criminal law and criminal justice setting - especially issues of access to justice. For example, his forthcoming book examines criminal legal practice in austerity. He has also worked on larger joint research projects concerning sexual offending and penal policymaking.

Beyond criminal justice directly, he has also looked at how clinician (nurse, doctor, therapist, etc.) decision-making and working practices can be influenced by concerns around legal liability, especially involving AI decision support systems technology.

External activity

James occasionally works in the criminal courts, sits on a Nottinghamshire Police committee scrutinising out of court disposals (police cautions etc.) and was also non-executive director of a sports charity for several years (British Student Taekwondo Federation).

Outside of academia, he holds a black belt in Taekwondo and is a former British National and British Student National sparring champion. Although he does continue to fight nationally (and sometimes internationally) in competitions, he is beginning to accept that his knees might be getting a bit old for it.

Sponsors and collaborators

James is currently working on a project funded by the British Academy, examining trust of AI by practitioners and service users in mental healthcare, with Dr Caroline Jones (Swansea University, Law), Prof Age Chapman (Southampton University, Computer Science), Prof Jeremy Wyatt (Southampton University, Medicine) and the mental healthcare charity Adferiad Recovery.


(Out November 2023) Criminal Justice in Austerity: Legal Aid, Prosecution and the Future of Criminal Legal Practice (Hart)

(forthcoming) 'Understanding the Working Practices of Lawyers' in Leading Works on the Legal Profession (Dan Newman editor, Routledge)

'Artificial Intelligence and Clinical Decision Support: Clinicians’ Perspectives on Trust, Trustworthiness and Liability' (2023) Medical Law Review (with Caroline Jones and Jeremy Wyatt)

'An exhausting treadmill for solicitors' (2022) Law Society Gazette (with Amanda Parker)

'Enhancing Trust in Clinical Decision Support Systems: a Framework for Developers' (2021) 28 BMJ Health & Care Informatics (with Caroline Jones and Jeremy Wyatt)

'Is Publicly Funded Criminal Defence Sustainable? Legal Aid Cuts, Morale, Recruitment and Retention in the English Criminal Law Professions' (2020) 40(2) Legal Studies 230

'The Way in Which Fee Reductions Influence Legal Aid Criminal Defence Lawyer Work: Insights from a Qualitative Study (2019) 46(4) Journal of Law and Society 559

'Where's the Next Generation of Defence Lawyers Going to Come From?' (The Justice Gap, 31st January 2020)

'Perverse Incentives: the Strange Economics of Criminal legal Aid' (The Justice Gap, 19th November 2019)

See all of James Thornton's publications...

UN Sustainable Development Goals

My research is working towards the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions Badge 10 - Reduced Inequalities Badge 3 - Good Health and Well-Being Badge