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Prima Facie puts Australia's troubled legal system on trial

Culture

First performed in the wake of the #MeToo movement, human rights lawyer-turned playwright Suzie Miller uses criminal defence lawyer Tessa as a mouthpiece for the women who find no justice in the justice system.

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Prima Facie is an interrogation of a legal system shaped by male experience and the resounding frequency with which victims go unheard, through the eyes of criminal defence lawyer Tessa.

The play turns a court of law into a stage through which to examine how the legal system excludes sexual assault survivors and after one year’s delay, and arrives at Queensland Theatre in a political and legal environment that makes it more relevant than ever.

Tessa, played by Sheridan Harbridge, is a criminal defence lawyer who becomes the victim of assault and finds her faith in the law shaken in its inability to protect her.

Playwright Suzie Miller drew from her experience as a criminal defence lawyer to write Prima Facie, which saw her regularly questioning the legal system and who it serves.

“While I firmly believe that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is the bedrock of human rights, I always felt that its application in sexual assault cases served to undermine rather than to uphold any real fairness,” she said.

“The system isn’t working the way it should be for the best of all Australians.

“Sheridan Harbridge as Tessa brings us to a point where we really see, through her experience, what needs to change in the legal system.”

Lee Lewis, Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, directs this award-winning show.

“This play is more necessary now than ever. Things are getting worse not better. Listen to Brittany Higgins, listen to Chanel Contos,” she said.

“Suzie Miller has found the perfect form for this story. She has chosen to have one woman on stage to testify to the inadequacy of our legal system when it comes to sexual assault trials. One woman will speak for all of us.”

Prima Facie arrives at Queensland Theatre having already won two prestigious writing awards, the 2020 Major Award from the Australian Writers’ Guild’s AWGIE Awards and the David Williamson Prize for Excellence in Writing for Australian Theatre.

Both Lee Lewis and Suzie Miller speak of the transformative power of theatre as a forum to examine the injustices meted out by dated structures.

Prima Facie asks us to consider why we continue to believe in a system that re-traumatises victims? Is our life’s work to support the status quo, or seek to evolve our systems?” said Lewis

“If we can’t imagine a different future together, how will we build one? This is a hopeful play because it encourages us to imagine how to reshape our legal future – it believes in the future of the law,” she said.

“Who sees this work and who finds the courage for the next steps in the fight for survivors is what I am excited about.”

Prima Facie opens at Bille Brown Theatre 14 July and runs until 7 August. For more information, visit Queensland Theatre’s website. 

Queensland Sexual Assault Helpline 1800 010 120

Sexual Assault Counselling Australia 1800 211 028

1800RESPECT 1800 737 732

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