IWD Interview with Sally Buckley

In celebration of International Woman’s Day (8 March), we are sharing inspiring stories about women from our Mentone Grammar Community.

Ready to explore a brave new world, Sally Buckley was one of the first female students enrolled when Mentone Grammar became co-educational. She completed Year 12 in 2007 and was the School’s first ever female Head Prefect. Now as a proud Mentonian and Director of the School Board, she continues to be a powerful role model and is a key driver in our ongoing evolution as an outstanding co-educational school.

From school Sally continued to ‘buck the trend’ choosing a career as a criminal defence Barrister following a legal studies excursion to Barwon Prison in Year 11. After listening to prisoners speak of their own experiences within the justice system and understanding the people behind the crimes and not just the headlines splashed across the news, Sally decided that becoming a Barrister was a way for her to help those less fortunate. “I realised that criminal law is as much about the disadvantaged upbringings people have experienced from birth; about mental illness and substance addiction; and how these matters can shape peoples’ responses and impact upon their decision-making, as it is about the law.”

Sally believes the most important element of her job is in defending the rights of those who are unable to defend themselves in the face of an inherent power imbalance between the individual and the State. “For the rule of law to be upheld in our society, it is crucially important that there be checks and balances on the institutions who represent the State (such as the police, prosecuting agencies, courts, etc). Being a criminal defence barrister involves advocating on behalf of those we represent to ensure they are treated fairly and equally before the law by defending such fundamental principles as the presumption of innocence and proof beyond reasonable doubt. Sometimes this means defending individuals who are alleged to have committed very serious crimes and who many consider indefensible.”

In a male dominated sector of the legal industry where only 26% of barristers in Victoria are women, Sally is once again undeterred by a gender imbalance and gains strength and inspiration from the female barristers she works alongside, as well as the female judges she appears before. “The strength, resilience, compassion and composure that they bring to what can often be an incredibly challenging and taxing job is remarkable and the criminal justice system is all the better for these women.”

“But more than anyone else, I am most inspired by my wonderful Mum. She has loved and supported me each day of my life, and I would not be where I am without her. She is a very compassionate, caring, kind and thoughtful person who always shows humility. These are qualities which I admire very much in her and which I aspire to myself.”

For the next generation of young women entering professional life, Sally is encouraged that they are more empowered and unimpeded in ways women have previously been in the professional realm. Her advice is simple, “focus on the work you are doing and why you are doing it, and be yourself”. Words of wisdom indeed!

Author: Katya Dunham