A breastfeeding mother was told that she must attend court for jury service, prompting calls for a blanket exemption for parents on maternity leave. Zoe Stacey, who gave birth to her second son, in February, received a note requiring her to attend Winchester crown court for jury service in May.
Officials refused her request to be excused on the basis that she is exclusively breastfeeding her son. The jury central summoning bureau told her that she could defer her service for only 12 months and must provide the dates for the two-week period that she could attend.
Stacey, who wishes to breast-feed her son for longer than one year, appealed the decision and was finally excused from service.
Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves has called for the rules to be changed so that women on maternity leave are automatically exempt from jury service.
In a letter to the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, in December, Reeves criticised the government for not having a formal exemption procedure in place. She raised the case of an expectant mother who deferred her jury service as it coincided with her due date, and who was then expected to rearrange it within the first six months of her son’s life, during which she was exclusively breastfeeding.
Reeves said the current rule ’unfairly penalises mothers of newborns’ and ’demonstrates a lack of understanding for mothers’.
In response to the letter, justice minister Chris Philp wrote: ’I realise you feel that the current guidelines discriminate against new breastfeeding mothers. The jury is made up of a cross section of society and provisions must be in place to ensure anyone who is eligible, including new mothers, can perform this duty.’
Following Stacey’s experience, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ’While it is vital juries represent a cross-section of society, we are urgently reviewing our guidance to make it clearer that new mothers should be able to serve at a time that is right for them.’