The experience of young barristers and solicitors was the inspiration behind a devious and revealing new ABC television drama, Crownies, which is due to air next month.
Delving into the world of the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and its eager young lawyers, Crownies is a 22-part series following five young graduates as they face the pressures of a fast-paced workplace, deal with horrific crimes, and tackle the big issues which arise in an apparently civilised society.
One of the masterminds behind the concept is Hilary Bonney, a script associate on the show and a barrister who once worked at the Office of Public Prosecutions in Victoria. Bonney is also married to a crown prosecutor, and mentioned to Greg Haddrick, the head of drama at Screentime (the show's producer), that the goings-on at the DPP might be good fodder for drama.
"That's how it started," said Jane Allen, a former lawyer and the show's writer and co-producer, during an interview with Lawyers Weekly.
"Hilary works with the team at every story meeting. We can draw on all of her stories, all of her husband's stories. It's great to have her constant feedback and someone to say, 'Here's something that happened to me'," said Allen.
Allen worked as a sole practitioner in criminal defence before joining Slater & Gordon, where she travelled the country taking statements from women involved in a class action against a manufacturer of silicone breast implants. She said she also draws on this experience when writing for the show.
"We had thousands of clients across Australia. It was an extraordinary job to do," she said. "We saw woman after woman who was terrified that she had a ticking time bomb inside of her. We were just chucked in and had to cope with all of that."
Allen said her previous life as a lawyer means she is not afraid to use technical language and draw on the myriad stories which arose during her career.
Cast members Andrea Demetriades, Hamish Michael and Marta Dusseldorp each said they were ignorant of, or "had no take on", prosecutors before beginning work on Crownies.
"All I knew was what I've been fed through the media and American crime shows, mainly about defence," said Dusseldorp, who plays senior crown prosecutor and 'head honcho' Janet King.
Fortunately, though, the cast and crew had significant access to the "real DPP", which series producer Karl Zwicky said "has helped to portray how the people working there (particularly women) get their release from dealing with such terrible crimes" - crimes which he adds the show "does not sugar coat at all".
"We went into the offices of the NSW DPP and looked around when we were designing our set. We wanted to get that sense of working in a big office - they're lawyers but they're working in a big bureaucracy," explained Allen.
"We've spent a lot of time with members of the DPP and asked them things that have happened and they've taken us to court with them."
Dusseldorp said she was taken aback by some cases the show portrays (of which some are based on reality, others are amalgamations of real cases, and others totally fictional), especially after speaking to prosecutors and actual victims.
"It's been quite challenging to realise how ugly it can get and how atrocious a lot of the cases they deal with are," she said. "It's only through this work that I've come to really love and admire prosecutors in this country and the job that they do for the community."
Dusseldorp also met with recently retired NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery who highlighted the importance of mentoring in the DPP.
"Nick's insight was really helpful in my role as senior prosecutor. He went on a lot about the open door policy, and that has skewed my performance in my care for these young solicitors," said Dusseldorp
The show is currently filming its 17th and 18th episodes in a mock Supreme Court in Sydney's Concord West. The show will run until the end of the year and is the first long-run series the ABC has aired for almost a decade.
Watch out for extended coverage from the set of Crownies, including actor and writer profiles, in coming editions of Lawyers Weekly.
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