The backlash of being a public defender


The shocking reaction Kara Shead received when she moved to the other side of the law.

Kara Shead has been a prosecutor for 20 years, but she's also enjoyed an 18 month stint as a public defender.

While she saw no issues with her change in role, others felt very differently.

“I was shocked at the reaction,” Shead tells Jenny Brockie on Insight.

“A number of friends, particularly not so much amongst lawyers that I knew, but people from my private life said 'I don't know that I can ever speak to you again.'

“I thought they were joking at first, I really laughed ... a number of people really said that they were struggling with the idea of me, as a prosecutor, defending people.

"They really saw me as a person who, as a prosecutor, was on the right side of the law.”

For Shead, the transition was an easy one, free from any of the moral conflicts her friends and family were feeling.

Australian Court
Australian Court

“I've never had a belief that I'm a prosecutor or a defender," she says. "I am but one part of the criminal justice system ... for which ever party I'm acting, will do my best for the client.

“I had no difficulty whatsoever acting for people charged with very serious crimes, or a feeling that I was on either side" on the side of right or the side of wrong.”

The lasting impacts

Shead has since returned to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions as the Deputy Director. She admits her work has had an impact on her personal life.

She says she became hypervigilant about her kids, and went through a phase where she wouldn’t let them stay at friends’ houses unless she had met the family members.

“I would often introduce myself and say what I did, and that I prosecuted paedophiles,” she says.

Shead admits she was also on high alert with her children around drugs and the age of consent.

She also believes the work criminal lawyers undertake puts them at risk of second-hand trauma.

She describes seeing terrible photographs of child homicides, including one particular case which showed, in her view, that the children had struggled for their lives.

“None of us could fail to be moved by and traumatised by [that],” she says.

But despite all this, she wouldn’t ever consider changing her career.

“Not for a minute. Most of the time in the middle of a big criminal trial I cannot believe that I get paid to do my job,” she explains.

“It is enjoyable, immensely interesting, and never boring.”

Watch Insight's episode, On Trial, Tuesday, 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

Source SBS Insight

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