The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on June 23, 1996 · Page 122
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The Sydney Morning Herald from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia · Page 122

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 23, 1996
Page 122
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Profile By Sue Williams A 5 worn on th e bench I ft K s; ' i it : , r 1 1 ' v -I s :'J MJ : : ' 'I A . .... . r T- ' ' ' ! .1 if Margaret Beazley, Australia's first female Court of Criminal Appeal judge, juggles a demanding professional life with the demands of a young family W! HEN newly qualified barrister Margaret Beazley first applied for legal chambers in a city centre law office, she was refused. "Well, we have nothing against women," she was told, "but we already have one." These days, as the first woman to be appointed to the NSW Court of Appeal, she's rather harder to turn down. For while Jostice Beazley may well have bucked the male tradition of justice by slicing through the lower ranks to reach the top rungs of her profession in record time spending a mere handful of weeks on the roll of solicitors, for instance she's always managed to do it her way. That hasn't always been the easiest way, either. It has, apparendy, been known for Justice Beazley to be found changing nappies in chambers. And, when the arrival of her youngest child, Anthony, disrupted a hearing of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) over which she was presiding, she was unimpressed. "I timed him to arrive the day after it finished," she complained. Yet at a time when judges are in sore need of some good publicity, Justice Beazley seems to be their ... er ... woman. It's somewhat harder to accuse those who administer the judicial system of being totally out of touch with reality when one of them routinely rushes off after a tough day in court to ferry her kids to sports matches and cook their dinner before sitting down again with her books. "I think many people don't realise that judging is extremely hard work," says Justice Beazley, 44, Who took up her appointment at the end of April. "Most judges would work a fairly standard 8.30am to 6pm in their court or chambers, but most will also work at home in the evening and at weekends. "It's also a very demanding task, intellectually, to listen for five hours a day in court. You have to assimilate all that material, analyse it, find the legal principles that apply, then write a judgement in respect of it, which is a public document, so it has to be of a high quality. "You probably heard about the judge who was mugged on his way to work ... at five in the morning. I sort of thought if "But this court of which I am a part is, I think, a very open court, a very progressive court. I think in NSW we have a track record we can be proud of." The big issue within criminal justice here, she says, is the lack of resources available to the court system, which reverberates down through every tier of the system. Serious delays in hearing cases, for instance, may harm those involved, in line with the old saying "Justice delayed is justice denied". As for herself, well, her new appointment may just end up meaning a litde of her family life is put on hold as she tackles her greatest challenge yet. Her husband, Alan Sullivan, however, is bound to understand. He is a barrister with the Australian Rugby League judiciary. The pair actually met across a court room, on opposite sides of a case. Justice Beazley won. Now with three children together, aged 10, 8 and 4, and with Mr Sullivan's 12-year-old son by a previous marriage, the two have become experts at juggling the complexities of their lives through the years Justice Beazley served as a Deputy Commissioner of ICAC and in the Federal Court. Not that there are never any problems. Just last week the family arrived back home from a relative's barbecue for their "kids' choice" night, the one day Justice Beazley lets them choose their "Law has traditionally been a very male-oriented profession that hasn't encouraged women." that's going to prove anything to people about judges, that would be it." Justice Beazley herself has plenty to prove too. A petite (she prefers the description "tall for her height"), elegant, fearlessly modern woman in a smart jacket and short skirt, with a love for the opera and a high grading in squash, she believes the legal profession has traditionally been a hard place for women to succeed and hopes her appointment will encourage other women into the law and to aspire for high office. So, does it surprise her it's taken so long for a woman to fight her way into the NSW Court of Appeal? "No, I am not surprised, but the sad thing is that the legal profession has been so hard for women," she says, choosing her words carefully as she sits in her rooms at the Federal Court. "It's traditionally been a very male-oriented profession that hasn't encouraged women. I actually think it's important for women to see a person in a visible position who's a woman and in that way I think I can do something in my position that will help women overall and make sure resistance to them making inroads gradually decreases." As for the nature of justice itself, she believes it can only help that more and more women are making it closer to the top. As well as changing the climate within the system, their presence can only help educate some of the male judges who have sparked controversy in the past with "ill-considered comments about crimes like domestic violence and rape. Justice, naturally, should be genderless, but there are plenty of studies suggesting its application is far from equal. "There are a lot of academic studies suggesting the way (the law is administered) varies in different places," says Justice Beazley. "They are able to identify quite clearly how this operates. own dinners. Trying to coax little Anthony into bed later that evening, she couldn't understand why he kept refusing and complaining he was hungry. It wasn't until her daughter pointed out he still hadn't eaten at 8.30pm that she finally understood. "People ask how we cope and I have to admit that sometimes life gets chaotic," says Justice Beazley, with an apologetic shrug. "I suppose we end up coping by laughing a lot. "We've found it's the best way." Justice Beazley's career highlights Acting as counsel for the Federal police in the Sallie Anne Huckstepp coronial inquiry in the mid-80s. Being appointed to the council of the NSW Bar Association in 1988. B Taking silk in 1989. D Conducting a major investigation, starting in 1990, on behalf of the Australian Securities Commission into a company which had accepted around $25 million of investors' money to establish pinewood forests which were found hardly to exist at all. Acting as a consultant to the Australian Law Reform Commission on gender issues in 1993. B Working as the chairperson of the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Administrative Law. B Being appointed to the NSW Court of -Appeal in April 1996. 6 THE SUN-HERALD TEMPO J u n e 2 3 , 1 9 9 6

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