Feeding mother bothers judge

Catherine Owen and baby Brianny.
Catherine Owen and baby Brianny.
A Wanaka mother asked to leave the Queenstown District Court by Judge Kevin Phillips for breast-feeding her 18-week-old daughter said while she understood the reasoning, "the way he went about it was not the best".

A spokesman for judges said it might be the first time the issue had arisen in a New Zealand courtroom.

Catherine Owen was seated near the front of the public gallery on Tuesday with her daughter, supporting her partner who was due to appear in court.

No other members of the public were close to her.

However, she was in the judge's direct line of sight.

The baby began to cry, so Ms Owen started breast-feeding her.

Shortly after, Judge Phillips asked: "Why is there a baby being breast-fed in my courtroom?", at which point a court bailiff approached Ms Owen, who had already started to leave the court.

"I'm glad I heard him say what he said before the bailiff came over to me," Ms Owen said.

It would have been a lot more embarrassing to have been escorted by the bailiff, she said.

She remained in the public waiting area until her partner's name was called, but decided not to speak to court staff about the incident.

"There's not much point making a massive deal about it. It's his courtroom and it doesn't [adhere] to the same rules.

"A few people have said I should lay a complaint."

She had decided not to take the matter further, but said the embarrassment was caused by "the way he went about it".

Senior judicial communications adviser Neil Billington, of Wellington, said yesterday judges had a "legal authority" to run their courtrooms "in a manner that they consider appropriate to the administration of justice".

"It's based on a legal power that each and every judge has ... Each judge is independent in terms of how they exercise that authority.

Mr Billington said while Judge Phillips had the authority to request Ms Owens leave the courtroom, "I'm not aware an issue of this nature has arisen before".

"Although courtrooms are open to the public, they're not 'public places' in the usual sense ...where members of the public are free to do whatever they like."

A Ministry of Health website states that "under the Human Rights Act, it's illegal for someone to stop you breast-feeding in public".

Mr Billington said Judge Phillips would not comment on his decision "and that's the usual situation".

While the Office of the Judicial Conduct Commission dealt with complaints relating to judicial conduct and matters of law, the incident fell outside that jurisdiction, Mr Billington said.

"The mere decision to require someone to leave ... is not a conduct issue; that's the judge exercising his authority."

A breast-feeding support worker in Queenstown, who preferred not to be named, said she was unfamiliar with the rules governing court rooms but felt if a baby was permitted in court then feeding the baby should also be permitted.

She said if the sound of a baby crying was disrupting the court, then breast-feeding was "a wonderful way to minimise disruption".



Sensible move

The breast-feeding lady displayed common-sense. I have little doubt that there are those who would have been more militant under the circumstances and chosen to make a major 'issue' out of the matter.
Breastfeeding may be done discreetly, and some years ago I was present while a mother unpretentiously fed an infant from under a small flap in her clothing, while taking the minutes of a meeting at the same time. It hardly rated a comment from those present, and didn't receive one.
Unfortunately, there are those who would see fit to turn an issue such as this into a personal 'crusade' and I have little doubt that some of those 'who have said I should lay a complaint', would likely have fallen into that category.
The lady who left the court, rather than waiting to be ordered to do so, was obviously aware that some would regard breast-feeding at a court sitting to be 'pushing the envelope' a bit, so common-sense prevailed.


Inappropriate places to breast feed

Craig David, in agreeing with Max, declares that "Breast-feeding shouldn't be allowed in space shuttle launches either."  True, there are places it should not be allowed, anywhere safety of the child and its mother would warn anyone with a brain cell not to do it, like while diving for paua.  Realistically  these scenarios can safely be ignored for the sake of enlightened discussion.  Gratuitous demonstration for its own sake and not for the benefit of the child, is something I would object to.  Manners, a tedious old concept, are still valuable as a guide to behaviour.  

So while hauling out a porn-star breast and making sure everyone notices before attending to the baby is naff.  Quietly loosening clothing enough for baby to feed is conscientious motherhood.  Adults' needs to get on with the activities of adult lives are always risks that the needs of tiny dependants get pushed aside.  A very small adjustment in the priorities of the rest of us can allow one small improvement in the lives of mothers and babies, the provision when and where needed of fresh, hygienic food specifically suited to the system of the little NZer.

Shocked and appalled

Yes I was shocked and appalled and no the court is not the same as a space shuttle or indeed open heart surgery.

The woman involved had to be there and already had enough on her plate that day, she was in no way disturbing the proceedings, it is merely a case of her actions causing offence. As a woman, who knows that new born babies do not come with an in-build 'feed timer' it would be great if the members of society who are supposed to be understanding and compassionate could behave in that manner.

Have to agree with Max

Have to agree with Max here. Breast-feeding is not appropriate in a court room.

This has nothing to do with human rights. It's just practical. Breast-feeding shouldn't be allowed in space shuttle launches either. 

To the earlier commenter: If you use words like "shocked and appalled" to describe this, what words do you use to describe violence, hatred, theft?

Feed the baby anywhere but in open court. It's not that big a deal![Abridged]

PC mad?

No Max, I'm afraid it's the people who think that NZ is "PC" that are mad ... as this case illustrates yet again. Reading through the comments made by the woman involved, she seems very level-headed. Clearly the judge is the one who had the problem.

Breastfeeding in New Zealand

In response to the individual in support of the judge who thinks it is reasonable to eject a woman feeding a newborn baby.

I am both shocked and apalled that you consider it reasonable and un-newsworthy that a person who is trusted above all others to be level-headed is allowed to humiliate an innocent woman feeding her child.

What is it about breastfeeding that is inappropriate exactly. Are you in some way hinting that it is obscene? Why else would it be considered inappropriate in a court room?

This has so astounded me I felt compelled to comment from my bed in England in the middle of the night, and I will be passing on the link to this story to the British newspapers!

It is unbelievable that a bastion of all that is fair can be allowed to behave in this way and you think it doesn't even deserve mentioning. [abridged]

Breastfeeding baby

The judge's actions here were entirely appropriate and this woman has no business being on the front page.

This is the judge's courtroom. Be interested in what her partner did to wind up in court in the first place - dare say he breached someone's rights in a much more newsworthy way.

PC New Zealand gone mad again.