If a woman is summoned for jury service while still breastfeeding it has sometimes proved stressful to get exemption from serving. There can be a lack of understanding and knowledge and an assumption is made that formula can be substituted. If a simple explanation that a woman is breastfeeding and cannot leave her baby is not accepted then it may be possible to use some of these suggestions.
Under the Equality Act 2010 it is sex discrimination to fail to assess or take action on health and safety risks for a breastfeeding woman where the work could involve risks with serious consequences for mother or baby.
It is indirect sex discrimination under the Equality Act for an employer to refuse a flexible working request from a breastfeeding mother if there are not good business reasons for the refusal, and if it results in the mother stopping breastfeeding. This could be applied to being asked to leave a baby.
Risks for a mother developing engorgement or mastitis, a very painful condition, because she will not be able to feed her baby while in court, and there may not be the facilities or time for her to express.
It will also be emotionally difficult, and the stress of being separated from her baby, along with discomfort and anxiety may mean it will be hard for her to listen carefully to evidence. If she feels that the court’s inability to make provision for her health situation will compromise her ability to listen, absorb and assess the evidence then this needs to be made clear. Not only are the juror’s rights being compromised but the accused has a right to a just and fair trial, which might be affected if the mother is feeling ill.
Risks for the baby include the unavailability of breastfeeding to provide nourishment and comfort. It is often assumed that a baby can just take milk from a bottle but the action of feeding is very different and many cannot adjust. A baby should not have to have formula against a mother’s wishes, and it takes time to build up an adequate supply of expressed milk. The baby may feel emotional distress being away from his mother.
Being separated will also mean that milk supply will drop down with consequences for the future. It may take time for the mother to increase her supply once more, and lead to distress for her and the baby.
It may also be possible to object to serving under article 8 Human Rights Act. This applies to a woman’s rights to physical integrity. She might also argue that it is inhuman and degrading to be preventing from removing milk from her body, particularly is she is also refused the right to pump. If a mother is told she cannot pump while serving on a jury she might complain to court staff or the judge that article 3 of the Human Rights Act (inhumane and degrading treatment) might be breached.
Courts are a public body and, as such, must respect and adhere to the human rights of anyone within the court system. A mother would need to make it clear that she is being put at serious health risk by not being allowed to express breastmilk.
For some women simply having court staff who are supportive and pleasant, and being provided with facilities to express would make it possible for them to serve on a jury.
It may be possible to ask a doctor to provide a letter stating a woman is breastfeeding and is not eligible for jury service. It is to be hoped that courts now have a better understanding of breastfeeding and that in future women can decline jury service without being involved in a stressful situation.
If you still have concerns about your summons for jury service you can talk to an LLL Leader.
Written by Anna Burbidge.
Copyright LLLGB 2016