An Exploration of New Zealand Crown Prosecutors' Experiences of Working with Potentially Traumatic Material and Emotions in the Courtroom
The occupational exposure to trauma and its potential impacts among legal professionals working in the criminal justice system is an area that has historically been neglected and has only gained traction in recent years. Crown prosecutors, as a subset of practising criminal lawyers in New Zealand working with potentially traumatic material (PTM), are arguably at heightened risk of vicarious trauma (VT) and the need to engage in emotional labour (EL). The current study qualitatively investigated New Zealand Crown prosecutors’ experiences of working with PTM and emotions in their role through three key research questions: 1) What are New Zealand Crown prosecutors’ experiences of working with PTM? 2) What sort of EL do Crown prosecutors experience, if any, through working in the criminal courts? 3) What factors in their personal and professional lives might exacerbate or alleviate VT symptoms? Nineteen Crown prosecutors from four Crown Solicitor firms across New Zealand participated in the study. The data was analysed using thematic analysis to identify recurring themes across datasets. Crown prosecutors outlined the various negative symptoms they experienced from their work-related exposure to trauma (VT), as well as the different workplace and personal factors that both protected and exacerbated such symptoms. Further, they described routinely and mandatorily engaging in EL to mask their emotions as a function of their professional duties. EL also doubled as a protective measure for Crown prosecutors in the difficulties they faced in their role. These findings add to the growing body of literature on legal professionals which has preliminarily indicated they are an at-risk population for the negative impacts of VT and EL, which can be significant and enduring. More research must be dedicated to this population to understand the unique etiological pathways for both consequences of working with PTM and ultimately, provide empirically-sound recommendations that proactively address these occupational risks.