A new mum is being forced to take her eight week old baby to court, after her request to defer jury duty service was denied.
Full-time mum Zoe Stacey, 36, is still breastfeeding and so has no choice but to bring her son William into the jury box.
‘I thought there’d be more compassion’
Ms Stacey was told that giving birth to her baby boy just two months ago is not a valid excuse to avoid sitting on a jury.
She is expected to attend Winchester Crown Court next month for jury duty, despite attempting to appeal and change the dates.
The mum-of-two from Fair Oak, Hampshire, who suffered a number of illnesses after birth, said she is unwilling to leave her son at home for such a long time due to his young age, and so will be taking him along with her.
She said: “Having gone through everything I did on top of breastfeeding, obviously people who choose to feed also have the right to be granted parental leave.
“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.
"I had to give them several dates within that time frame where I would be prepared to serve for ten days.
“I don't want to leave my child for ten days, a night is the longest I left my other son. We recently relocated from Hertfordshire to Hampshire and I don't have a massive support system to rely on.
“I'm just a bit surprised they are pushing it so much, I really thought that being a new parent and breastfeeding as well would be grounds for exemption.
“I can't believe I have to fight for it. I thought there'd be more common sense and compassion.”
‘There’s no consideration’
A week after the birth of her son on 15 February, both Zoe and William contracted neonatal mastitis and had to go to hospital for three courses of antibiotics, and both of them suffered thrush as a side effect of the medication.
Her husband, Peter Stacey, 36, was forced to look after their other son Thomas, three, while they recovered.
Ms Stacey later received a summons for jury duty on 2 April, requesting her attendance on 24 May.
She immediately went online to apply for an exemption but this was rejected, although she was initially offered the chance to defer her jury service to another date.
However, just 10 minutes later she received an email confirming her court date in May at Winchester Crown Court.
She said: “There’s no consideration. It feels like a bit of an automated ‘computer says no’, rather than reading what I put they just rejected them."
Ms Stacey explained that after searching the internet she found other new mums had received a similar response when requesting an exemption, while others had been excused.
“It’s not consistent; a lot of people have been excused and some people haven't even been deferred,” she said.
“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.”
Zoe appealed the decision again on 10 April, but if this fails she plans to take baby William into the jury box with her and hopes the judge will see sense.
The maximum penalty for not attending jury service is £1,000 which must be paid within 28 days, otherwise 14 days' imprisonment is imposed by default.
The exhausted mum added: “I understand it’s a civic duty and I think it's really important, I just don't think it's realistic to request parents to do it in the first year, especially during the pandemic.
“We have been isolated, no socialising, not a lot of support around and it’s been very difficult compared to my first child where we had other mums we were with and had groups to go to.”