Poots gay blood hearing not until October

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

Former Health Minister Edwin Poots’ bid to overturn rulings that his ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland was irrational and “infected” by apparent bias will not take place until October.

Challenges to judicial verdicts that he also breached the ministerial code and appeared to have been influenced by his Christian beliefs in maintaining the lifetime prohibition have been hit by delay as lawyers wait the outcome of similar proceedings in Luxembourg.

The European Court of Justice is yet to reach a decision on a challenge to France’s ban on gay men donating blood.

Senior judges on Friday re-listed Mr Poots’ appeal for a hearing to begin on October 12 - nearly four years after the judicial review proceedings were first issued.

In January the High Court made a second determination against the former Minister.

Mr Justice Treacy held that his ban on gay blood donations was infected by apparent bias.

He identified a “very troubling lack of candour” and attempt by the Democratic Unionist MLA to conceal the fact he had taken a decision to maintain the prohibition.

The judge also backed claims by lawyers for a homosexual man that Assembly comments showed Mr Poots stance was influenced by his Christian beliefs.

That verdict strengthened a previous finding in October 2013 that the ban is irrational.

The gay blood ban, put in place during the 1980s AIDS threat, was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

It was replaced by new rules which allow blood from men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago.

But Mr Poots maintained the ban in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety.

In his second verdict on the case Mr Justice Treacy declared Mr Poots in breach of the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before the Stormont Executive.

Counsel for the former Minister has consistently rejected claims that his position may have been influenced by religious views.

But lawyers for the gay man who brought the challenge, identified only as JR65, introduced remarks Mr Poots made in the Assembly while allegedly talking about the case to support their claims of suspected bias.

The DUP MLA was recorded as saying: “There is a continual battering of Christian principles, and I have to say this - shame on the courts, for going down the route of constantly attacking Christian principles, Christian ethics and Christian morals, on which this society was based and which have given us a very good foundation.”

But Mr Justice Treacy questioned why he would be making such comments if his decision was based only on health grounds.

The judge also cited Mr Poots previous opposition to gay rights legislation and a news article from 2001 where he spoke of the rights of those receiving donations to know they are getting “clean blood” uncontaminated by the HIV virus.

In the Court of Appeal it was confirmed that the judgment from Luxembourg is expected to be delivered on April 29.

A barrister for Mr Poots requested an autumn appeal hearing to allow the parties time to study those findings.

Agreeing to the request, Lord Justice Girvan queried why it was expected to last for nearly a week.

“The estimate of four days seems lengthy, but it will take as long as it takes,” he said.

A further review of the case will be held in June.