An Australian judge has been widely criticized for asking a breastfeeding mother to leave a public gallery in his courtroom and then defending his decision as ‘self-explanatory’.
Mark Gamble, a Victoria County Court judge, told the woman, who was feeding her child under a blanket while watching the trial, that she had to leave because it could be a “distraction for the jury”, reported 9News, a CNN affiliate.
The news network reported that the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told a local newspaper that she felt shocked and degraded and started crying after leaving the courtroom in Melbourne.
Naomi Hull from the Australian Breastfeeding Association told 9News she was “completely shocked” by the incident.
“It’s really disappointing to hear that this sort of thing is still happening,” she added.
Ingrid Stitt, Victoria’s minister for early years, said she understands the state’s attorney general will speak to the court about the matter, CNN affiliate 7News reported.
“I mean, it’s 2023 for god’s sake, and women should never (feel) like they can’t actually feed their child, which is perfectly natural and a pretty basic thing,” a- she declared.
“We need to be able to make women feel that it is okay to take care of their child, including feeding it in public places.”
Gamble then explained the decision to the jury, which was not in the courtroom when he asked the woman to leave.
“Everything should be self-explanatory, members of the jury,” he said, according to 9News.
“What I said was this, and I read the transcripts: ‘Madam, you will not be allowed to breastfeed a baby in court. I’m sorry. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. It will be a distraction for the jury at the very least. Thank you,” he added.
In 2016, the Australian Parliament changed its rules to allow women legislators to breastfeed their children in the bedroom, and in 2017 Queensland Senator Larissa Waters became the first person to breastfeed in the Federal Parliament.
According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, “a mother’s right to breastfeed her child is protected by law both federally and in every state and territory”, and under the Federal Discrimination Act 1984 sex, it is illegal to discriminate against a person directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding.
In the state of Victoria, discrimination on grounds of breastfeeding is illegal in “housing, clubs, education, employment, goods and services, sale and transfer of land and sport,” the association adds, without specifically mentioning courtrooms.
CNN has contacted the Victoria County Court for comment.