There has been an outpouring of support for blanket exemptions for parents on maternity leave from having to attend jury service after a breastfeeding mother was told that she’d have to attend her service in person.
Zoe Stacey gave birth to her second child in February, and recently received a letter informing her that she had to attend Winchester crown court for jury service in May. She requested that she be excused because she will be breastfeeding her son over this period. However, she was refused her request and only offered the option to defer her service for 12 months.
Ms Stacey has stated that she wished to breastfeed her child for longer than a year, so it was still not possible for her to attend jury service.
Ellie Reeves, the shadow solicitors general has since written to Robert Buckland QC, the lord chancellor, criticising government policy for not having formal exemption procedures in place. Reeves has said that the current rule “unfairly penalises mothers of new-borns” and shows that there is still a large lack of understanding of, or interest in, the lives of new mothers.
However, justice minister Chris Philip has retorted that while he empathises with the difficulties of jury service for 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”.
While Ms Stacey was eventually excused from jury service after appealing the original decision, the issue is still being debated. The Ministry of Justice has since claimed that while it’s vital for juries to represent the population, which should include new mothers, they are urgently reviewing guidance to make it clear that they should be able to serve at a time that’s right for them.