Court breastfeed 'not offensive' - Minister

By Tracey Roxburgh

Justice Minister has sympathy for any mother who feels in a no-win situation

Catherine Owen, of Wanaka, was removed from court for breastfeeding baby Brianny. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Catherine Owen, of Wanaka, was removed from court for breastfeeding baby Brianny. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Justice Minister Judith Collins has backed a woman ordered out of court for breastfeeding, saying she "could not think of anywhere" it would be considered offensive.

Ms Collins was responding to the decision by Judge Kevin Phillips to eject Wanaka woman Catherine Owen from Queenstown District Court on Wednesday.

The minister said that as a mother who had breastfed, "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.

"But I would have thought that most people are not offended at the sight of a mother breastfeeding 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."

Judge Phillips questioned why there was "a woman breastfeeding in my courtroom". Ms Owen rose to take her daughter to the public waiting area as she was being approached by the bailiff.

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

Mothers often felt pressured to breastfeed and were then made to feel uncomfortable about it by those who felt breastfeeding 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 breastfeeding."

Human Rights Commission spokesman Gilbert Wong said it supported any woman who chose to breastfeed in public or at work.

However, courts were exempt under a section of the Human Rights Act 1993.

While a Ministry of Health website stated "under the Human Rights Act, it's illegal for someone to stop you breastfeeding in public", a specific provision in the act meant decisions made in courts did not apply.

The legislation states that if a complaint, or part of a complaint, concerned "a judgment or other order of a court, or an act or omission of a court affecting the conduct of any proceedings, the commission must take no further action in relation to the complaint or part of it".

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