Mother to take six-week-old baby to jury service in protest at ‘ludicrous rules’

Exclusive: ‘The government is incredibly old fashioned. I’m pretty sure these policies were made by middle-aged men decades ago’, Kirsty Keating says

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Friday 02 July 2021 04:31
<p>38-year-old says she tried to defer her jury service for a later date  but her request has been outrightly refused</p>

38-year-old says she tried to defer her jury service for a later date but her request has been outrightly refused

A new mother with a six-week-old baby said she will take her newborn to breastfeed while she does jury service in protest over “ludicrous rules” that prevent her deferring her duty.

Kirsty Keating told The Independent she will do this even though she fears it could harm her baby boy’s well-being as she condemned rules forcing her to do jury duty while breastfeeding.

The 38-year-old said she had tried to defer her jury service for a later date when she is not breastfeeding but her request has been refused.

She added: “Obviously it is much better for his development and well-being to be home. His dad is here. It is the environment he is used to and comfortable in. He sits on play mats with noises, colours, and shapes.

“It is much more preferable to spending time talking about potentially damaging things. I could be called in for a rape or murder case. He is very little but you don’t know how much they absorb.

“I doubt there is going to be colour and shapes supporting his developmental needs in the court room. The rules put you between a rock and a hard place. No woman should be forced away from her newborn for such a long length of time.”

Ms Keating, who works communications, said having the request to defer jury duty refused has made her feel “really stressed” - adding that she had an email explicitly confirming her jury service this week after asking to appeal the decision.

“I would be devastated to have to leave him at home or take him with me to court,” she added. “The idea you should take a baby to court is ludicrous. Not only is that unfair on baby. It is not fair for everyone else. I would do it to make a point but I’d hate to do it.”

The mother-of-one argued it is “hypocritical” for the government to recommend breastfeeding for six months yet demand new mothers come into jury service while they are breastfeeding.

She said she is not sleeping properly and is “completely exhausted” - adding that if a woman does not have her new child with her she is likely to be worrying whether they are okay.

Kirsty Keating with her baby boy

She added: “The government is incredibly old fashioned. It needs a massive shakeup. They need to look at departments and see where there are sexist or hypocritical policies. I’m pretty sure these policies were made by middle-aged men decades ago.”

She argued many mothers of new babies are “completely overwhelmed” so having to challenge a request to do jury service could be “terrifying” for them.

“Not everyone has that in them in a time like this,” she added. “I am so busy. There are some days when I don’t have breakfast or don’t have lunch until 3 or 4pm. And that is with my husband working at home. We are slammed between the two of us.”

Requesting to defer jury service would be “really daunting” for a woman who does not have strong written English skills, she added.

Ms Keating explained she had been forced to defer the jury service she was supposed to do last August due to her mother being terminally ill and being told she only had a year to live. She also asked to defer because she was due to start a new job a day after the jury service started.

She said: “My mum died a week after I got letter confirming it was deferred. Both requests to defer are linked to literal life and death issues. Last time was because my mum was dying. Now I have a new life to look after. If that is not important enough what is.”

Ms Keating said there is an inquest into her mother’s death in the next few weeks as she warned the treatment she received was not up to scratch due to health professionals “pushing routine things like cancer to the side” during the pandemic.

The ordeal comes after another new mother hit out at “nightmare” rules that forced her to do jury service, in an interview withThe Independent back in April. Zoe Stacey said the saga had left her highly anxious.

But after The Independent contacted the Ministry of Justice, Ms Stacey was told she would in fact be excused.

Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, said breastfeeding women are not in a position to take part in jury duty.

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.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments