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
"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
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
"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