Northern Ireland gay blood case passes first stage

Blood bag Edwin Poots has maintained the ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland

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A gay man has won the first stage in a legal challenge to a lifetime ban on homosexuals giving blood in Northern Ireland.

The High Court ruled he had established an arguable case that Health Minister Edwin Poots' stance was irrational and unlawful.

A judge granted leave to seek a judicial review and listed the case for a full hearing later in the year.

The man has been granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability.

His lawyers are seeking a ruling that would force Mr Poots to bring his policy into line with the rest of the UK.

The complete prohibition, put in place during the 1980s AIDS threat, was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales last November.

It was replaced by new rules that 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 window period during which infection with blood-borne viruses could not be detected.

But Mr Poots has so far maintained the ban in Northern Ireland, declaring it was to ensure public safety.

It was argued that the health minister has no legal authority for his position.

The blood donation issue should be taken by the secretary of state for health, rather than devolved to Stormont, it was claimed.

'Irrational'

Mr Justice Treacy was also told the ban was irrational because Northern Ireland takes blood supplies from the rest of the UK which could have been donated by gay men.

Legal papers submitted on support of the judicial review challenge also claimed Mr Poots position was infected by apparent bias.

Attorney General John Larkin QC, responding on behalf of the minister and department, argued that he was entitled to act as he has.

He stressed: "It's the respondent's case that no definitive decision has been taken."

The court was told the applicant would not even be eligible under the 12-month rule because he has not remained celibate.

It emerged in his records that he previously received money for sex.

According to his affidavit, however, he has since undergone a religious conversion and tried to abstain from sex.

Mr Justice Treacy ruled that leave to seek a judicial review should be granted on points about alleged irrationality and compliance with EU law.

He threw out another ground of challenge, based on human rights legislation, which claimed the applicant was a victim.

The case was listed for a full two-day hearing in December.

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