It was fun appearing at the Newcastle Local Court with 33 bikies in the room with me.
Belinda Hughes, Director of Prosecutions, National Heavy Vehicle Regulator
Belinda Hughes, Director of Prosecutions for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, has an exciting career in the public service. From studying law while working in the police force to raising kids while prosecuting gang crimes, her life is nothing short of exhilarating. Hughes shares her experience of navigating the legal profession.
From a young age, Belinda Hughes aspired to be a prosecutor. In 2006, she joined the police force in a busy station to gain street credibility and decided to study law after witnessing an incident during her prosecutor training.
“This very pompous barrister turned to the prosecutor I was observing and said, ‘What would you know? You don’t even have a law degree’,” she recalls.
“I thought, I’m not going to let anyone be able to say that to me.”
Hughes sees the law as a positive tool that can help to protect the community. She attributes her perspective on the law to her former manager in the Professional Standards Command.
“My manager saw law as a solution, whereas most people that I’d spent time with really thought law was a barrier or obstacle to something,” she says.
“He taught me to have a great mindset about the law and it really shaped the way I practised.”
Hughes was promoted to Senior Prosecutor in 2016, and she ran a small unit prosecuting gang crimes in NSW.
“People asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You’ve got kids.’ But I loved it. You couldn’t get me to stop working,” she says.
Her time prosecuting gang crime was a particular highlight for Hughes, as she helped put an end to the violence between the Finks and the Nomads, two notorious gangs in NSW.
“They were involved in a really heavy conflict, shooting each other for 18 months,” Hughes says.
“It got to the point where they were even breaking their own rules and shooting into a house, knowing the only people in there were the wife and child.
“Seeing the law as an opportunity, rather than a barrier, I was able to get this legislation that had never been used in Australia and run it in the Supreme Court.”
Hughes’ innovative approach stopped the violence overnight. She was able to prosecute both sets of gangs for participating in a criminal group.
“To me, it really showed the strength of the laws we have in NSW,” she says.
In her new role as Director for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, Hughes manages prosecution teams and court appearances across the country.
“I really like the model where prosecutors are engaged early and alternatives to charges can be considered,” she says.
“I know it sounds funny in the prosecution space, but the end goal is the safety of the community If we can do that without laying charges, I think that’s a really great outcome.”
With such a varied career, Hughes encourages lawyers to jump at every opportunity. She embodies this advice, having taken risks throughout her career to pursue new and exciting challenges.
“I didn’t particularly love traffic law [yet] somehow I ended up running the transport law unit,” she says.
“Is this where I always thought I wanted to be? No, but do I love it? Yes!”