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WWTD? Giving evidence in court with a newborn

(48 Posts)
CinnabarRed Tue 19-Apr-11 14:11:00

I am almost certainly going to have to give evidence in a crown court case at some point in the next few months.

It's unusual and important in that the CPS view my case as a test case for future prosecutions (not against this particular accused person, but because there's a hole in the law where certain behaviours that the CPS, and I, think are unacceptable don't fall within any existing laws. The only law under which the accused can be tried was written in 1840, and hasn't been used in years, and certainly not in these circumstances)

I don't feel able to give you any more details of the case - my apologies, but anyhow I don't think it's relevant to this AIBU post.

I'm pregnant and it's unlikely that the case will be tried before the baby is born. I'm planning to breastfeed, as I did with my two existing DCs.

The problem is that I will not be allowed to bring a breastfeeding baby into court. I can understand this, given the serious nature of the case and the obvious distraction that a young baby could create. But on the other hand, how can I leave a breastfed baby at home for an uncertain amount of time?

I am the chief prosecution witness, and it's in the balance whether the case will proceed if I don't give evidence (there is some CCTV footage that will also be presented in evidence, some photographs confiscated from the accused's mobile phone and a written witness statement from a security guard).

I called the CPS liaison to explain about my pregnancy. They were very nice, but would like to have a clearer idea from me about whether I am still willing to give evidence. I suspect that if I say no then they will drop the case. So far I have said yes, and that I'll find a workaround (perhaps having a friend with me who could take the baby while I'm actually giving evidence?). But I'm now wondering whether it would be better to say no and just remove this whole stressful thing from my life.

But I really don't want the accused to get away with something really quite upsetting and disturbing. Not least because if the prosecution succeeds then the precedent set might help other people in the future.

WWYD?

kitsmummy Tue 19-Apr-11 14:13:47

Well I think you've almost answered the question yourself here. You feel you have to attend as witness to stop them getting away with something horrible, therefore you're going to have to rope someone into coming to court with you and the baby aren't you? Either that or expressing and part bottle feeding. Perhaps expressing etc would be easier?

potoftea Tue 19-Apr-11 14:14:46

You seem to want to give the evidence as you realise you are important to this case and I think you will regret it later if you don't.
So I'd go with the idea of having a friend wait with baby outside while you have to go into the courtroom.

jaggythistle Tue 19-Apr-11 14:15:21

if you can take someone with you to hold the baby that sounds good. maybe a cool bag with a few portions of expressed milk in case they're required? depends on baby's age i guess.

in a similar situation I'd probably find it hard to say no if it was important to see someone prosecuted.

mrsravelstein Tue 19-Apr-11 14:15:48

i dont' really understand the problem, you take a friend with who can hang on to the baby while you are in court, and you ask for a break if you need one to go and feed. i took newborn ds2 to court when i divorced, was there all day, just kept popping out when needed.

BranchingOut Tue 19-Apr-11 14:15:52

I think that the CPS should be able to offer you a private room or similar at the court, so that your baby and friend stay there while you give evidence.

How are you with expressing? Could you express and have your friend cup feed the baby (using a small medicine type cup, held to the baby's lips) even if your baby won't take a bottle?

TandB Tue 19-Apr-11 14:16:23

You probably would be allowed to bring a sleeping/feeding baby into court in a sling - it has happened several times to my knowledge. Alternatively you could have a friend sit outside with the baby and take a break in your evidence to feed the baby.

Another option is for the case to be adjourned until you are better placed to leave the baby.

The only thing that rings alarm bells for me is that you were given the impression that the CPS would drop the case if you were unwilling. This suggests a slightly uncommitted prosecutor - if they want a case to go ahead they will work around witness difficulties and will put quite a lot of pressure on an unwilling witness in some situations.

You may want to prepare yourself for this case being dropped close to trial - a surprising number of advocates don't really like "test cases" as there is, by definition, nothing they can use to support their position.

TheOriginalFAB Tue 19-Apr-11 14:17:06

Oh I wish I could help you. I can't say much but have a similar situation.

Could you express and have someone with you to take care of the baby while you are in court? You could hire someone? Give formula for part of the time?

It seems a shame but ultimately if you feel you can't do it then you can't do it and there should be no blame.

cantspel Tue 19-Apr-11 14:17:15

Brig someone to look after the baby. Witness support will be able to supply a quite room for you to breast fed in.
Court hours are not long most start sitting at 10.30 rise for lunch at 1, resume at 2 and then finish for the day around 4.30.

Lizcat Tue 19-Apr-11 14:18:49

Questions to ask CPS

How long are you likely to be giving evidence for?
If it is a long time, can breaks be arranged for you to breastfeed?
Is there a room at court where friend can wait with baby and you can breastfeed?

I suspect once you have the answers to these questions it will be easier to make up your mind. I suspect with time to consider these points the court probably will be able to help you.
I would also ask myself how would I feel if the crime happened again because I didn't testify.

Reindeerbollocks Tue 19-Apr-11 14:19:07

Surely if you're the lead witness in such a unique and quite serious case the Judge would summon you to court to give evidence. They won't just allow you to remove yourself from the process.

Can you not express milk for the baby, and leave the baby with a family member? Not an ideal situation but may be necessary.

Alternatively when you get the court date, you could apply to have the court date moved to a date when you will be able to attend (I know prosecutors have applied to courts to do this before when lead witnesses were on holiday etc).

I don't think you can get out of it to be perfectly honest - so maybe working real solutions out now for the future would be more practical. (it is still a pain in the bum though).

olderandwider Tue 19-Apr-11 14:19:10

A few options:

express some milk and leave baby with a friend

hope the case is delayed to the point the baby may be weaned!

leave the baby with formula with friend just for that day (but not sure how you would manage with engorged breasts!)

Or, could you reasonably request a recess from the judge if a feed is due or you feel the need to express milk?

<Surely justice cannot be denied because of a mother and baby's biological needs?>

blackeyedsusan Tue 19-Apr-11 14:25:43

when i was pregnant and was asked to go to court several mile away, they were talking about special considerations for me as a witness. can you look into asking about that? Don't know what it was called, the man pleaded guilty in the end so didn't have to go.

Anaxagora Tue 19-Apr-11 14:28:17

I give evidence in Crown Court a lot for work. Judges generally go out of their way to be sympathetic to witnesses and jurors, so as long as you've thought it through, I suspect they'll bend over backwards to help you.

I don't think in all honesty you can take the baby into the court room with you, nor do I think you'd feel comfortable even if you were allowed to. Court sittings are usually pretty short with regular breaks, so there's no reason why your baby should have to wait longer for a feed than he/she normally would, iyswim. Normal hours are 10.30am (though often will start later for jurors/witnesses as there'll be things the lawyers will discuss amongst themselves) to 1pm, with a half-hour break inbetween. Similarly the afternoon sitting is usually 2 or 2.15 until 4.30, with a break in between, so perfectly reasonable intervals to fit in with the feeding of even a little newborn.

But yes, you will need to have someone waiting in a quiet room with the baby -- courts usually have a variety of big and small rooms for witnesses to use, so as long as you sort it out with the Witness Care Unit beforehand, there's no reason for it to be a problem. If the baby is very little you can ask the CPS to go for a few months adjournment, by which time your baby's needs will be a bit more settled and manageable.

CinnabarRed Tue 19-Apr-11 14:43:11

Thank you all for your advice.

It's reassuring to know that facilities could be made available for feeding. I'm good at expressing but wouldn't know how many feeds' worth to set aside if I left the baby at home. Better to take him/her along and ask a friend to sit with him/her while I'm actually in court, I think.

I do want to give evidence. I'm not particularly worried about the legal process itself, so I'm not looking for an excuse, IYSWIM.

The act commited, which the accused has admitted to BTW, would have been one of gross indecency if carried out somewhere other than where it was. So I do feel that it's an important principle to establish.

I am still hoping that the accused will plead guilty. The magistrates court bit is now done (the accused had a choice of crown or magistrates court) and the first preliminary hearing at the crown court is early in May.

TheOriginalFAB Tue 19-Apr-11 14:45:03

<ex-nanny offering baby sitting services>

CinnabarRed Tue 19-Apr-11 14:48:09

smile at FAB. I'm planning to leave DS1 and DS2 with DP, and ask our lovely nanny if she'll come to court with DC3 and me. Suspect it will be a dull day(s) for her.

TheOriginalFAB Tue 19-Apr-11 14:59:10

It doesn't have to be dull. She can take books/magazines to read and presumably take the baby for a walk once they are changed and fed?

rollittherecollette Tue 19-Apr-11 15:01:16

I THINK ( not sure) that if you child could be classified as a 'babe in arms' as yours will be, you are allowed to take him/her into court with you when you give evidence. Really push the CPS to sort this out for you- I am sure that when it comes to the day the judge will be more than willing to have regular breaks to allow you to feed.

CinnabarRed Tue 19-Apr-11 15:07:20

Yes, I guess she could FAB.

I was a witness in a court case, and before the trial started, all the witnesses gathered in a room adjacent to the court - separate from where the accused and his family/friends etc waited.

I assume that 'you can't bring the baby to court with you' means you can't bring the baby into the courtroom with you, but I really can't imagine they wouldn't let you have the baby in the court buildings at all. I suspect that most crown court buildings will have a cafe, so worst case, your friend could wait in there.

I hope that you can work this out so that you can give your evidence without any additional stress - and well done for being willing to do this.

SofiaAmes Tue 19-Apr-11 15:43:50

I had to give evidence in court (magistrates) a few months after my ds was born. I was ebfing. This was 10 years ago and people were a lot less accepting of bfing back then. But nevertheless, they made enormous efforts to accommodate me. There was no question of ds not coming to the courthouse with me. I was given a room to wait (and bf) in (my dh was also testifying and he had to wait in the corridor). I was allowed to remain seated while testifying as I had had an emergency cs and was not able to stand for any period of time. They kept me supplied with water and were constantly asking if I needed anything. My testimony was quite short, but it was made very very clear that if I was too tired and needed to take a break or bf my ds, they would stop the proceedings and accommodate me. Dh looked after ds while I was testifying, but if I didn't have dh there, I'm sure they would have sorted something out. All of this was for a small magistrates court case.

Topspin Tue 19-Apr-11 17:36:27

You should be fine - as others have said, the only time you won't be able to have your baby with you is when you're actually giving evidence.

I went along with a family member when they had to give evidence in court last year and witness support showed us into a big room with comfy chairs, TV, stuff to read etc, plus there was a small kitchen with tea/coffee making facilities and a fridge. There seemed to be lots of space and I'm sure there would be other rooms where you could breastfeed in private if you preferred.

Hope it all goes well.

BellsaRinging Tue 19-Apr-11 17:51:29

I work in Mags Courts, and there is an exception to the general rule of no children in Court if the child is a "babe in arms" and I believe that this extends to the Crown Court. However, it's not ideal for you if you're giving evidence. I would call witness care at the CPS, tell them you are willing to attend, but want to speak to the case worker concerned. The Crown Prosecutor will be very unlikely to attend court, and Counsel my not yet be assigned, but the case worker is likely to be in attendence and will either be able to meet the witness (you) or arrange a police officer to do so.

There should also be a private room available (in our mags Court there are 2-one for ordinary and one for vulnerable witnesses, and whilst facilities vary there is likely to be similar in your crown court) and the case worker will probably be able to liaise with the court on your behalf. They are really very good and will know the facilities available. If I was you I would ask if you could bring a friend to Court who could sit in the room with your dc, whilst you give evidence. Counsel should be able to let the Court know your situation on the day and there should be no problem with taking regular breaks for feeding.

atmywitssend Tue 19-Apr-11 19:14:44

BellsaRinging - my DH works at the CPS and has just endorsed what you have posted.
He said that Babes in Arms are most certainly allowed and he can not see any circumstances in which a Judge would not be happy to make exceptions to the usual process to allow you to care for your baby.

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