The Boxing Butterfly takes wing – beware its sting

A month after its publication, the book chronicling the career to date of Margaret Cunneen SC, The Boxing Butterfly, is in its second print-run, after a rush of demand, according to publisher Michael Wilkinson of Wilkinson Publishing. The book was launched at two functions in late June, the first at the Wyllie martial arts gym where Cunneen does her boxing, the second at her chambers in the heart of Sydney’s legal-land.

Margaret had written the foreword to Andrew L. Urban’s Murder by the Prosecution (Wilkinson Publishing, 2018). She is now a busy defence barrister. In the final months before retiring as Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor in January 2019, Andrew invited her to lunch and proposed that they collaborate on a book of her high profile, successful and at times controversial career to date. (The Boxing Butterfly is introduced and edited by Andrew. Also available digitally from AmazonKindle and Apple Books)

(Cover photo by Emma Phillips)

“The first indication I had of Margaret’s innate integrity was over our seminal lunch at Mazzaro’s Italian restaurant in Elizabeth St, a short walk from the offices of the DPP,” he told the guests at the launch in chambers. “At one stage in that conversation, triggered by my observation that some prosecutors I had come across in my research seemed more concerned with chasing convictions than finding the truth, she was incredulous: “Why would a prosecutor do that?”  To her, as she reveals later in this book, a wrongful conviction is a prosecutor’s worst nightmare. She is no doubt right … in most cases.

“Margaret – a committed hoarder – was nevertheless about to dispose of many boxes of transcripts and other documents that she had accumulated.

“I took them into my lawful custody   … the first of several batches. My home office was soon filled to overflowing with Margaret’s career. In these boxes, among the piles of transcripts, I found dozens of magazine articles by or about her, speeches she had given, letters and cards.  Selecting what to include in the book was a task of filtering an abundance of riches. There was also the editorial question of what to include of material that was critical of her. Especially from fellow lawyers….and I don’t think they can complain of being ignored. Perhaps they’ll wish they had been … We included it all and provided context.

“In the chapter titled The ICAC Bout, the book delves into one of the worst experiences of Margaret’s professional life. I’m sure you’ll recall how she was seen as another ICAC butterfly by then commissioner Megan Latham, who famously told emerging lawyers that working at ICAC was like pulling wings off butterflies. The book reveals exactly how and why the ICAC investigation was really triggered… and how it was spectacularly shut down. It wasn’t Margaret who hit the canvas.

Sons Chris, Steve and Matt

“On a lighter note, I should mention how many laughs I had putting the book together, both from the material Margaret provided in her personal takes on some milestone cases and from the words of some participants in her cases.

“I will share just one item with you, from a cross examination of a woman by Margaret while  defending her male client. Margaret suggested at one point in the trial that the woman had never previously mentioned that the accused “touched your labia or any part of your body,” and she was making up evidence on the spot. To which the woman replied, “I know my vagina like the back of my hand.”

Judge Conlon launches The Boxing Butterfly

Organised with the efficient help of Fiona Hayden, Clerk of Chambers, the launch was attended by around 100 guests, mostly from the legal profession.

Jeffrey Phillips SC warmed up the crowd with good humour and Judge Paul Conlon officially launched the book  with a speech that referred to several sections in the book and at the Wyllie gym, Margaret’s three sons, Steve, Chris and Matt, each spoke (from the boxing ring) in admiration of their mother, and also of how, through the book, they learnt what she had been doing – and what she went through – all those years.

Special guest at both functions was Blaise, Margaret’s 8-month old granddaughter, to whom she dedicated The Boxing Butterfly. (Photo by Nicola Bailey. All other photos by David Miller)

Andrew with Sarah Dudley & Rowan Dean


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11 Responses to The Boxing Butterfly takes wing – beware its sting

  1. Ltobet says:

    Thank you for letting us comment. noi

  2. Ltobet says:

    The more mature I get, at over 60, thinking 30, the more depressed I get understanding the social political scene under democracy.

  3. Peter Gill says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading my copy of The Boxing Butterfly. Here’s my rather weird review.

    If you’re interested in the rarely revealed inner workings of the NSW legal system, this book gets you closer than most to see what it’s like.

    Partly because Margaret is so committed to justice and trying to do the right thing, several times she has had to deal with complaints which eventually are resolved in her favour. But that for me is not the most interesting part of the book – it’s when she switched to being a defence lawyer in the last few years that I became really captivated.

    It’s easier to understand the stonewalling behaviour of the legal system in the Sue Neill Fraser and Kathleen Folbigg cases when you read about some of the cases Margaret has defended recently. For example, the bizarre decision to charge two young Irish backpackers with murder (on page 84) defies commonsense, but the answer to why such haphazard decisions are made is right there in other parts of the book. Thank goodness they had a good lawyer in Margaret to defend them, or they might have ended up unfairly convicted. When Margaret wonders why the young Irishmen and the mother of one of the, have not been in touch with her from Ireland since then, I can tell her – if you endure what they went through, many people simply want to put it totally behind them and never contact anyone, even their saviour, ever again – they surely would regard Australia as an unjust land which they never want to visit ever again, despite Margaret’s great effort.

    I’ll quote from the book, so you can work out why there’s such a big danger of injustice like that occurring. From page 95:

    “I started to learn the most fundamental difference between appearing for one side or the other in a criminal trial. A prosecution brief, most commonly, looks damning. It is the police perspective, and, as such, very often is entirely accurate. However there is usually a great deal more to the scaffold of the case than the investigating police can possibly know.”

    There are a couple of other similar thoughts in the book – roughly along the lines of …. that as a defence lawyer, Margaret could see it from the defence’s point of view, which made her think that when she prosecuted, the police brief she was given was not always completely unbiased. You see what you are presented with. One side.

    My point is that even a good prosecutor caught up in such a system can be overly influenced into thinking that the accused are guilty when they really are not, eg in the case of the young Irishmen.

    At long last I got to read Margaret’s infamous speech at Newcastle Uni that led to all sorts of trouble for her. I think it’s a wonderful speech, perfect for the actual audience. It’s fascinating that she was unfairly attacked for it.

    I disagree with Margaret about one case. Margaret presents four pages of her recent cross examination of Kathleen Folbigg about her diaries. In my opinion, though the questions (as one would expect of Margaret) are tough and challenging, every answer by Folbigg is entirely consistent with how an innocent woman would answer. As the recent review of John Kerr’s The Big Folbigg Mistake on this website sort of points out, if you look for guilt in the diary entries, you find guilt. What that guilt means to you depends on who hired you. Because Margaret was hired by one side in the Folbigg case, I think Margaret’s opinion on this case is simply wrong. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in the last 20 years studying the Folbigg case, and I’m sure Margaret has not had enough time to understand the many intricacies of this case. That’s my minor quibble with the book. I get things wrong all the time, and in my opinion Margaret is wrong to think Folbigg is guilty.

    Overall, I loved the book, which has interesting moments scattered all through it.

  4. Owen allen says:

    The more mature I get, at over 60, thinking 30, the more depressed I get understanding the social political scene under democracy.

  5. Robin Bowles says:

    So fantastic there is finally a book about this wonderful woman and esteemed barrister—practitioner of the law. I watched her at work during the second Gilham trial which ended up in my book Blood Brother and subsequently became a 2-part TV. Series. During a few lunches and coffee breaks I grew in awe of her professionalism and dedication to justice. And she was a PROSECUTOR at the time!! A little Margaret story if I may—she often attended Mass before an expected heavy session during this trial, sometimes arriving a bit breathless, pulling on her robes as she rushed through the old wooden swinging doors in the original part of the Supreme Court. As she brushed past me I caught a glimpse of a HUGE kitchen knife hidden under her robes! There was no heavy security at that old building and anyway she was the Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor! Who would imagine… ? She later produced this knife with a flourish from under the bar table, accompanied by gasps from the court and bug eyes from the jury, confronting the defendant with a knife similar to the one he had admitted using to stab his brother 16 times in the back as he tried to run away. The defendant was speechless, as I recall, while His Honour muttered something about ‘unorthodox’ and Gilham’s lawyer had conniptions!! I should add that Gilham had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his brother some years earlier, the trial I was attending was his second for allegedly murdering his mother and father as well, with many stab wounds each, on the same night—hence the knife. He was found guilty of their murders , got a double life sentence, but some time later the verdict was overturned by a technicality on appeal. The DPP declined to charge him for a third time. So he went home!

    • Owen allen says:

      Wow Robin, what a story, Margaret has guts and so do you.
      I had a brain scan today and am cleared of brain damage;
      But my frontal lobe is missing. I have heard whispers of selected prisoners in Tasmania Risdon Prison, disappearing for a week or so, as if in solitiary and they reappear in prison society mentally adjusted. ( they keep them sedated, and I must have been a victim)
      I am ok, because aliens operated on me and installed a titanium chip to replace the lobe.
      Excellent work guys, and NSW Frontline Health are doing an excellent job still under the circumstances; and I thanked them for their frontline service, and said if I could kick the Govts arse to get more funding, I would.
      I could see sleep deprived dark rings under the eyes of one senior from 6 or 7 metres away. They were ringing workes for a half an hour or more trying to get someone to come to work on their day off.
      Australia has lost the plot.

  6. Owen allen says:

    Amendment, cortisone to cortisol, cortisol is produced by body, cortisone is administered, and my hypothalamus is more worrying than my frontal lobe, being subjected to producing excess cortisol and inducing insulin resistance.
    Excessive, continuous stress destroys mental and physical health.
    Psychological Warfare in Society, eveyday, everywhere, by bullies who aren’t aware, some are and capitalise their knowledge. Tavistock are experts.
    Tasmania is controlled by Totalatarian Mafia, by fear, and has puppets at the realm, who ever gets the vote.
    IE, Tasmania Police are Too Corrupted to Do Anything About,,,

  7. Owen allen says:

    Wow, great work guys, vey inspirational, many thanks.
    How do you maintain inner strength?
    I spent 7 hrs at A&E today, probably because of a panic attack, convincing me I might be having a stroke, and I do not want a stress induced heart attack or stroke at home alone in the middle of the night.
    My first panic attack was in Hobart Remand Centre, Tasmania, first night ever incarcerated, and my anxiety has been high ever since.
    Problem is, my problem; I can not back off or call it quits.
    Why, because there are people like you fighting for Justice.
    God Bless, Owen.

    • Owen allen says:

      Ps, going for a brain scan tomorrow. I hope they find one, with a frontal lobe, undamaged. Years of cortisol may have shrivelled it up, if it is still there, (true, and excess cortisol upsets insulin production resulting in physical health problems.) This is why Psychological Warfare is used widespread in society today….Fear, Gotta Laugh.😂 Truth sets us free.

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