Minister supports breast-feeding mum

Judith Collins
Judith Collins
Justice Minister Judith Collins says she cannot think of "anywhere" breast-feeding can be considered "offensive".

She could not comment on Judge Kevin Phillips' decision to eject a Wanaka woman from the Queenstown District Court on Tuesday for breast-feeding her child, but as a mother who had breast-fed a child, Ms Collins said "it's better to feed a child than let a child cry".

"I obviously can't comment on what judges do in their courts ... [They] are the masters and mistresses of their courts," Ms Collins told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

"But I would have thought that most people are not offended at the sight of a mother breast-feeding a little baby and I can't think of anywhere this is considered to be offensive.

"There is nothing ... unusual about it; they should be congratulated."

The ODT yesterday reported Judge Phillips had questioned why there was "a baby being breast-fed in my courtroom" when Catherine Owen, of Wanaka, started breast-feeding her 18-week-old daughter in the court.

Ms Owen was in court supporting her partner, who was due to appear before Judge Phillips.

After Judge Phillips' question, Ms Owen rose to take her daughter to the public waiting area as she was being approached by the bailiff.

Ms Owens told the ODT on Wednesday she did not intend to take the matter, which she described as "embarrassing", any further.

Ms Collins said she had a "great deal of sympathy" for any woman breast-feeding in what could feel like a no-win situation.

Mothers often felt pressured to breast-feed, and were then made to feel uncomfortable about it by those who felt breast-feeding in public was not appropriate.

"What are mothers supposed to do? Stay at home and be tied to the fridge or something?

"I've got little patience for anyone who is offended by a woman breast-feeding."

Human Rights Commission media spokesman Gilbert Wong said the commission supported any woman who chose to breast-feed her child in public or at work, but courts were exempt under a section in the Human Rights Act 1993.

Law Society president Jonathan Temm said breast-feeding in the public gallery of a courtroom could be a "catalyst" to angry scenes in an already tense environment.

Mr Temm said the Law Society did not have a view on whether women should be allowed to breast-feed in courtrooms.

But he added it absolutely respected a judge's right to determine what was appropriate in his or her courtroom.

"Think about it in a practical context: imagine if the public gallery were full of members of the Mongrel Mob and say, other people from criminal gangs, and you have a woman who breast-feeds.

"It just becomes a catalyst and people can become quite angry about it. Other women can get angry about it.

"You don't need more tension in the courtroom; you've already got enough. So there are lots of reasons why you need to be more circumspect about certain behaviours."

Mr Temm said judges had complete control over their courtrooms and were entitled to set their own standards, with no limits on their power. - Additional reporting, APNZ

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