Irene Spigno

Irene Spigno

Course completed in Australia: Post-Doctoral Fellowship
Institution: University of Melbourne, Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies
Current position: Full Professor, Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila, Mexico

An interest in freedom of speech drew lawyer Irene Spigno to Australia.

Dr Spigno, who holds a Masters in History, Politics and Comparative Law in Mediterranean Countries from the University of Messina and a law degree from the University of Cagliari, was undertaking her PhD in Comparative Public Law at the University of Siena when she met a professor from the University of Melbourne.

“I have always been fascinated by the constitutional history and development of Australia,” she explains, “and I had already started to study freedom of speech in the Australian constitutional system.”

“I kept in touch with the professor and started to work with him, so it was quite natural to apply for a Fellowship at the University of Melbourne.” As an added incentive, one of her future tutors was among the most experienced professors in the country working on freedom of expression.

Australia is amazing. I loved it,” she says. “Academically, the most important aspect was the new perspective it gave me on studying. I had access to different material and legal sources and I was exchanging lots of ideas with professors and young researchers.”

Although Irene already had a clear idea of the topic and the outcomes of her research, things didn’t turn out the way she had planned. “When I arrived I realised my initial idea was completely wrong,” she laughs. “I had to throw away that project and begin again.” She admits it was a challenge, but it was worth it. She intends to turn that work, ‘Freedom of Speech, Hate Speech and the Influence of Foreign Law: The Australian experience’, into a book.

“The research developed at the University of Melbourne gave a deeper touch of internationalisation to my CV and to my experience,” she says.

“The network I built in Melbourne, especially with Professors Adrienne Stone and Cheryl Saunders, gave me the chance to apply for other post doc positions in Australia, Canada and the United States.”

She now lives in Mexico, where she is full professor of Constitutional and Comparative Law at the Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila in Saltillo. Together with the Director of the School of Law and other judicial colleagues, she is in the process of establishing the first ever Inter-American Academy of Human Rights there. “It’s really ambitious,” she admits, “but there is a good energy here.”

Having been a visiting scholar at the University of Alberta School of Law in Canada, the Max Plank Institute for Comparative and International Law in Heidelberg in Germany, the University of Namibia and the Supreme Court of Namibia, the North-Western University in South Africa and the University of Seville in Spain, Irene is no stranger to living abroad, but she acknowledges that Australia had a particular effect on her.

“I think when I came back to Italy, I had a better knowledge of English, both written and spoken, and I was more open-minded,” she says. “In Australia I had the chance to meet a lot of people from all over the world and to travel. It was really different, intense and exciting. I didn’t have any expectations before I went because expectations are not as rewarding as reality!”

She singles out some of the simple things that were special for her, such as sitting in her office at the university watching the sunset change every night from orange to red to pink and violet, along with discovering that kangaroos are quite big, while penguins, or at least the variety that live on Phillip Island (known as fairy penguins), are very small!

“One of the things I really liked when I was there was the feeling of freedom and the sensation that everything you want to do is possible.”