The Court of Appeal in Belfast has ruled that Stormont’s Health Minister should decide whether a lifetime ban on gay men giving blood in Northern Ireland should be lifted.
Former Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots has succeeded in an attempt to overturn rulings that his ban on gay men giving blood was irrational and infected by apparent bias.
Appeal judges also held there was no basis for concluding that the decision was predetermined by his Christian beliefs. They further ruled that it was for Stormont’s health minister, rather than the UK health secretary, to decide whether homosexual men should be permitted to donate.
The gay blood ban, put in place during the 1980s Aids epidemic, 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.
In Northern Ireland there is a lifetime ban on gay men donating blood.
According to BBC News, Health Minister Hamilton said in 2015 he believes the ban should be lifted if a government advisory group were to find it safe to do so, a view that opposes his predecessors in office.
Delivering their verdict today the three judges, led by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, rejected the assessment of an earlier ruling that Mr Poots, had acted with irrationality or apparent bias in not adopting the same policy as the rest of the UK.
Sir Declan said: “There is no basis for the conclusion that the minister’s decision in this case was pre-determined by his Christian beliefs, and there is ample evidence to indicate that the minister approached the decision-making by evaluating the competing factors before adopting on a precautionary basis the status quo.”
He added: “We do not consider that the fair minded and informed observer could conclude that there was a real risk of apparent bias.”
The court was also told Mr Poots was entitled to go against the rest of the UK on the issue, with devolved powers giving Stormont ministers the right to take a different view.
The current health minister Simon Hamilton has indicated that he is prepared to lift the ban if a government advisory body advises it’s safe to do so.