Q and A The law at work with Hilary Bonney

Hilary Bonney (LLB(Hons) 1988) is a barrister and crime writer who worked as a prosecuting solicitor for the Office of Public Prosecutions Victoria. She speaks about her recent work as story consultant and associate producer on the ABC's new drama, Crownies.


How did the idea for the show come about?

I was talking with Greg Haddrick, the Head of Drama at Screentime, about my work at the DPP in Victoria as a solicitor. He and I were working on the adaption of my first book TheSociety Murders into a television movie at the time and I was telling him some stories. He thought they had the potential to create a drama in some format. Luckily for me, he is a producer who has outstanding talent and drive and can get thing happening.

Is there need for greater understanding about the role of prosecutors and the job that they do for the community?

Yes, people are much more familiar with the role of defence barristers, and prosecutors are generally unsung heroes.

In what way have the experiences of your working life as a criminal barrister flowed through to the scripts?

Very directly. When I first came to the Bar in 1996 I did a lot of criminal law and those times, as well as my time as a solicitor at the DPP, informed a great deal of the stories we use in Crownies.I wanted to incorporate the emotional issues that face lawyers every day and the impact they can have on them.

What were the issues that you wanted to highlight?

I wanted to highlight that the practice of law is a multi-layered experience that involves great responsibilities and great privileges at the same time, and of course many shades of grey. Most television shows don't reflect the ambiguity of the law or the effect of that ambiguity on the lawyers.

How did the producers of the show ensure authenticity in their portrayal?

They involved me as a story consultant in every plotting session, reading each script, doing script notes and giving telephone help to the writing team. The NSW DPP provided enormous help through advice, interviews, visits to their offices and the ability to follow the solicitors around the courts.

The series focuses on fi e young solicitors at the DPP – what do you think are the biggest challenges facing young lawyers?

I think it is developing your own style and morals and having faith in your own way of doing things. I also think that maintaining a healthy life outside law is a challenge.

Your career has spanned both the legal profession and beyond. How have you balanced your interests in both the law and writing? 

I have a very supportive husband, Ray Gibson (who also happens to be a real crown prosecutor) and barristers' clerk, Paul Holmes, who help me leave the law for a while and get on with my other career when I have to. Without those two men and their flexibility, I would not be able to do it.

What are you working on now?

I have just finished a new true crime book about the killing of Herman Rockefeller.

What advice would you give to law students just entering the world of law?

Be yourself and don't think that there are only a few ways of using your law degree. The world is your oyster, go out and grab it.

Image: The ABC drama, Crownies, follows five young solicitors working for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Source: ABC TV

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 6, October 2011.