New mother condemns ‘nightmare’ rules forcing her to do jury service while breastfeeding newborn

Exclusive: ‘It has been a big source of stress and anxiety,’ says Zoe Stacey

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
@mayaoppenheim
Monday 12 April 2021 16:43
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<p>Zoe Stacey says she asked to be excused from doing jury service in May as she is breastfeeding but her request was refused</p>

Zoe Stacey says she asked to be excused from doing jury service in May as she is breastfeeding but her request was refused

A new mother has hit out at “nightmare” rules that force her to do jury service even though she is breastfeeding her two-month-old baby.

Zoe Stacey, who is from Hampshire, told The Independent she asked to be excused from doing jury service in May as she is breastfeeding, but her request was refused.

The 36-year-old, who gave birth in February, said the ordeal has left her highly anxious as she warned juggling being a juror on a potentially “harrowing” rape or murder case while caring for a newborn was impossible.

She said: “I received a letter on 2 April asking me to do jury service at Winchester crown court and to allow 10 days. They won’t excuse me. They’ve rejected my reasoning for excusal.

“The breastfeeding aside, I’m exhausted. Last night, I had five hours of broken sleep. I don’t want to be away from my baby. There needs to be some leeway and some compassion.

“I feel quite anxious about wanting to get this resolved. In between feeds at night, I’m thinking about it and stressing about it. I don’t know how it is going to be sorted out. It has been a big source of stress and anxiety.”

Zoe Stacey

She said it would not be possible to breastfeed her newborn baby boy while doing jury service - adding that she had raised the fact she has no childcare with them but her grounds for refusal were not accepted.

After The Independent contacted the Ministry of Justice, they said Ms Stacey would actually be allowed to avoid doing jury service but she has yet to receive an official answer from them.

Ms Stacey added: “Also, childcare options are more expensive and few and far between in a pandemic. It would be even harder for single parents. We have recently relocated so we don’t have any support.

“Also, you don’t know what kind of case you get. You could have different cases throughout your jury service from what I understand. You have to take in a lot of information and make decisions. I don’t want to do that when I’m exhausted and stressed and when I’m away from my child.”

Ms Stacey noted in Scotland she would have been excused from jury service, due to being a breastfeeding mother, as she called for more “compassion” to be shown to new parents.

She said she had encountered other mothers on social media who say they have had similar experiences to her, adding that there is a lack of consistency around current rules.

“I’m angry now seeing how many parents have had to deal with this stress too,” she added. “Anyone on parental leave should be excused from jury service. I think jury service is a really important civic duty but I don’t want to serve it in the first year of my child’s life.”

Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, told The Independent it is clear women who are breastfeeding are not in a position to take part in jury service.

She added: “It is extremely unreasonable to ask breastfeeding mothers to take part in jury service. Babies will keep them up at night.

“Babies need to be comforted when distressed. This is wholly incompatible with jury services. It seems obvious to us that government should make a special exemption for breastfeeding mothers.

“Parents of very young babies who have taken leave from work to care for their babies should also be exempt. It is also not realistic to expect parents to simultaneously care for their children and take part in court proceedings.”

Ellie Reeves, the shadow solicitor general, previously called for the justice secretary to ensure mothers of newborn babies are exempt from jury service. She condemned the government for not having proper mechanisms to stop mothers on maternity leave from being called to jury service.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Breastfeeding mothers can defer jury service for one year and subsequently apply for a full exemption.

“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.”

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