Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots has won the right to withhold the legal reasons for enforcing a lifetime ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood in the province.
Yesterday, an Information Rights Tribunal found that Mr Poots and NI Attorney General John Larkin were entitled to keep the information secret.
“It seems unfair that a public authority engaged in litigation should have a unilateral duty to disclose its legal advice,” NJ Warren, the judge who heard the case, said in a seven-page finding.
The finding can be appealed to a second-tier tribunal, and then to the Appeals Court.
The case was taken by Matthew McDermott, policy manager of the Rainbow Project.
Criticising the ruling, he said: “It is hugely disappointing that the minister has used yet more public funds opposing an issue around equality, this time to keep the legal advice from the Attorney General on the blood ban secret. The decision of the High Court on the blood ban not only found that the minister acted irrationally, but also that he acted without lawful authority and in breach of the Ministerial Code.”
He added: “There is also a political interest in seeing the advice as is evident from calls of various Assembly Members for the advice to be released. If the Assembly is to hold the minister to account, part of that process will be to know upon what legal advice the minister made his decision.”
In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood under the advice from SaBTO, the UK Government’s Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs Advisory Committee.
Failure to do so should constitute grounds for him to resign, the motion warned.
In September, it was revealed Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) had spent £37,112 in relation to Mr Poots’ legal challenge.
Mr Poots claims his decisions are based on protecting Northern Ireland’s blood supply.