Gay blood ban 'irrational and unlawful', court told
- 27 June 2012
- From the section Northern Ireland
A lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland is irrational and unlawful, a court has heard.
Lawyers for an unidentified man are seeking a ruling that would force the health minister to bring policy into line with the rest of the UK.
The prohibition, in place since the 1980s, was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.
New rules permit donations from men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year ago.
The 12-month deferral was left in place following a Government Advisory Committee report.
It identified a much shorter period during which infection with blood-borne viruses could not be detected.
But Mr Poots has maintained the ban in Northern Ireland, declaring it was to ensure public safety.
The minister's position is being subjected to a legal challenge brought by a man granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability.
His barrister, David Scoffield QC, claimed Mr Poots has no legal authority for his stance.
It was contended that the blood donation issue should be taken by the Secretary of State for Health, rather than devolved to Stormont.
Mr Justice Treacy was also told the ban was irrational because Northern Ireland takes blood supplies from the rest of the UK that could have been donated by gay men.
Legal papers submitted on support of the judicial review challenge also claimed Mr Poots' position was affected by apparent bias.
His alleged views and comments on gay practices were outlined.
Attorney General John Larkin QC, responding on behalf of the minister and department, argued that he was entitled to act as he has.
Even under the 12-month rule the applicant would not be eligible because he has not remained celibate, the court heard.
It emerged in his records that on one occasion he received money for sex.
But the man has supplied an affidavit in which he claims to have since undergone a religious conversion and tried to abstain from sex.
Judgment in his application for leave to advance to a full judicial review hearing was reserved.
Outside the court his solicitor, who declined to be named in order to ensure his client's anonymity, stressed the significance of the case.
He said: "It raises a number of substantial, constitutional and legal issues, and it goes to the heart of what our government can actually do.
"It also raises issues about discrimination and people's human rights.
"We have argued that the minister's decision is wrong because it is legally unreasonable, he has acted outside his powers."