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 judge in the County Court of Victoria, told the woman, who was feeding her child under a blanket while observing the trial, that she needed to leave because it might be “distraction for the jury,” CNN affiliate 9News reported.
The news network reported that the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told a local newspaper she felt shocked and degraded and started crying after leaving the courtroom in Melbourne.
Naomi Hull of the Australian Breastfeeding Association told 9News she was “completely shocked” by the incident.
“It’s really disappointing to hear that this kind of thing is still happening,” she added.
Ingrid Stitt, minister for early childhood in the state of Victoria, said she understood the state’s attorney-general would talk to the courts about the issue, CNN affiliate 7News reported.
“I mean, it’s 2023 for goodness sake, and women should never (feel) that they can’t actually feed their child, which is perfectly natural and a pretty basic thing,” she said.
“We need to be able to make women feel that there’s nothing wrong with them caring for their child, including feeding their child in public places.”
Gamble later explained the decision to the jury, who were not in the courtroom when he asked the woman to leave.
“It should all be self-explanatory, members of the jury,” he said, according to 9News.
“What I said was this, and I am reading from the transcripts: ‘Madam, you will not be permitted to breastfeed a baby in court. I’m sorry. I will 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 female lawmakers to nurse their infants in the chamber, and in 2017, then-Queensland Sen. Larissa Waters became the first person to breastfeed in 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 country’s federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, it is illegal to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding.
In the state of Victoria, discrimination due to breastfeeding is illegal in the areas of “accommodation, clubs, education, employment, goods and services, selling and transferring land, and sport,” the association adds, though it does not mention courtrooms specifically.
CNN has reached out to the County Court of Victoria for comment.