'It's brilliant': Breastfeeding mum told she has to do jury service wins appeal

·4 min read
Zoe with her baby son William Stacey. (SWNS)
Zoe with her baby son William Stacey. (SWNS)

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has exempted a breastfeeding mother from jury service after her request to be excused was originally refused.

Zoe Stacey, 36, received a letter on 2 April calling her for jury service, two months after giving birth to her son William, who she is still breastfeeding.

The full-time mother-of-two from Fair Oak, Hampshire, immediately went online to apply for exemption but her request was rejected by the Jury Central Summoning Bureau.

She was initially offered the opportunity to defer her jury service, provided she gives another 10-day period she could do within the year.

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But 10 minutes later, she got an email confirming her court date in May at Winchester Crown Court.

After she launched an appeal, the MoJ announced on Monday that Stacey would be excused from jury duty. 

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On hearing news, Stacey told Yahoo News: "It’s brilliant but the stress from the last few weeks is rather unnecessary and no one has picked up the phone to me and given me a call."

An MoJ spokesperson said also they will update its guidance on jury duty for breastfeeding mothers to make it "clearer" to those who need to apply for a deferral.

Stacey earlier said: "I can't believe I have to fight for it. I thought there'd be more common sense and compassion."

“There’s no consideration," she added. "It feels like a bit of an automated 'computer says no', rather than reading what I put they just rejected them."

Stacey, who suffered a number of illnesses after birth, described how tired she already is and how the whole incident had taken an added toll. 

Both Stacey and her baby son contracted neonatal mastitis a week after his birth in February.

They then had to go to hospital for three courses of antibiotics but both suffered thrush from the medication.

William also had tongue-tie — a condition which makes it difficult for him to breastfeed.

“Even just being sleep deprived, I wouldn't want people giving a judgment on me in a trial as it’s really difficult to give your focus to anything in that first year.”

She added: “What I’d really like to push for is like in Scotland where a breastfeeding woman who requests an excusal shouldn't be refused.

"They need a policy down here. It seems to depend on who reads your email. It's very hit and miss.”

In a statement, an MoJ spokesman said: “Breastfeeding mothers can defer jury service for one year and subsequently apply for a full exemption.

“While it is vital juries represent a cross-section of society, we are urgently reviewing our guidance to make it clearer that new mothers should be able to serve at a time that is right for them.”

The MoJ added that a year-long deferral was granted to Stacey as soon as it became known that she was a new mother.

Zoe and Peter Stacey with son Thomas Stacey and baby William Stacey. (SWNS)
Zoe and Peter Stacey with son Thomas and baby William. (SWNS)

A full excusal was then granted after she provided further information on her circumstances.

The department added that current crown court practice is to defer jury service for new mothers that are breastfeeding, for up to 12 months, if they apply to do so.

People who are granted a deferral can later apply for an excusal but decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, it added.

The row comes after Labour MP and shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves, who has been campaigning on the issue for months, criticised the government for not having a formal procedure in place to prevent mothers on maternity leave from being called to jury service.

In a recent letter to justice secretary Robert Buckland, Reeves called for formal provisions to be put in place to fully exempt women from jury service whilst they are on maternity leave.

She also raised the case of an expectant mother in her constituency who deferred her jury service as it coincided with her due date.

The service was then rearranged to a date within the first six months of her son’s life, during which she was exclusively breastfeeding.

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In response to the letter, the parliamentary under secretary of state Chris Philp stated: “I realise you feel that the current guidelines discriminate against new 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."

Reeves responded to say: “This tone deaf response from the Ministry of Justice is shameful.

“A new mum’s priority is her baby. It is completely unacceptable that the Government have refused to help women on maternity leave defer their jury service.

“The Government is letting down new mothers and needs to put better protections in place now to stop women on maternity being forced into jury duty.”

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