What is the impact of working on criminal trials?
Tuesday, August 28, 2018 - 08:30

Chief Counsel of Victoria Legal Aid, Tim Marsh, says defending the seemingly indefensible is just part of the job. He recently represented notorious pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale on 20 counts of child sexual assault.

“I was called all manner of names and had accusations levelled at me,” Tim says. “I’ve been spat at, I’ve been abused by a family of victims outside court.”

Bill Hosking, former public defender and judge, represented one of the five men charged with the gruesome murder and sexual assault of Anita Cobby.

It was a brief he wished he never received, but it was his duty.

It was then up to Bill to try and convince a judge and jury that his client deserved some leniency for his crimes.

The question of a client’s guilt is not for their lawyer to decide, according to experienced criminal solicitor Mark Klees. 

“If you can’t go in and fight as hard as possible, and take every objection, and try and win that case, you should not be a criminal lawyer.”

Lawyers also face the risk of vicarious trauma after being exposed to confronting stories, clients and evidence. The effects of a criminal trial can go far beyond the courtroom.

“I went through a phase when I also wouldn’t want the children to have sleepovers unless I’d met the family members,” says NSW Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Kara Shead.

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

The incredible stress and pressure during a trial leads many lawyers to reach for a drink at the end of the day.

“I’m probably not alone, because my good friends in the profession are big drinkers like myself, but I would easily drink a bottle of wine a night,” admits solo practitioner Karen Weeks.

Recently retired County Court Judge Geoff Chettle says talking to colleagues is really important, and lawyers need to know when to offer support or ask for help.

“You’re brought up as a lawyer to be big and brave and pretend that you don’t need any of this stuff, but you do.”

This week, Insight looks at the impact of working on a criminal trial, and how top lawyers do their best while defending the worst.