Judge cleared after booting mum for court breastfeeding


A Victorian judge did not intentionally single out or humiliate a breastfeeding mother by asking her to leave a courtroom during a high-profile trial, a judicial watchdog has ruled.

The woman was feeding her child in March while observing the trial of ultra-Orthodox Jewish principal Malka Leifer when Judge Mark Gamble told her she was not permitted to breastfeed in court because it was a distraction.

It prompted calls for the judge to apologise and three complaints to the Judicial Commission of Victoria from people not connected to the trial.

The complaints alleged the judge discriminated against the woman by ruling she was required to leave the courtroom and she was humiliated by being singled out.

Judge Gamble provided a detailed response as part of the watchdog's investigation.

In late September, the commission dismissed the complaints on the grounds that breastfeeding was related to some of the evidence given during the Leifer trial in closed court.

"In particular, evidence concerning the accused breastfeeding in front of one of the victims shortly before engaging in an act that was the subject of one of the indecent assault charges in the proceeding," the commission ruled.

"The officer's request was made to manage and minimise the high risk of the jury being distracted at a critical stage of the proceeding."

Similar requests were made to other attendees to minimise distraction, including asking journalists to type any notes quietly so counsel and the jury were not distracted, the commission noted.

The commission found the judge's voice was not raised and his language or tone could not be described as aggressive.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are protected by anti-discrimination laws in areas of public life including work, schools, universities, shops or rental properties.

But the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission's website does not state whether the legislation applies to courtrooms.

It is not the judicial watchdog's role to assess whether a judge's decision or procedural ruling is lawful or amounted to discrimination.

"While the woman concerned may have been impacted by the request, the officer did not intentionally 'single out' or 'humiliate' the woman such that he infringed the standards of conduct generally expected of judicial officers," it said.

A jury convicted Leifer of sexually abusing two former students at the Adass Israel School in Melbourne's inner east between 2004 and 2007.

In August, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison with a non-parole period of 11-and-a-half years.