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Defiant Edwin Poots refuses to reveal legal advice on abortion guidelines

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

Published 30/10/2013

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

Health Minister Edwin Poots has insisted he will not disclose the legal advice his department received over draft abortion guidelines – sparking calls for "better transparency" within Government.

Mr Poots (below) told the Assembly that it is "not his intention" to release the advice, after being asked by MLAs.

The DUP minister also said he would not disclose whether he received direct legal advice from the Attorney General on the abortion guidance document.

His reponse came after NI21 MLAs John McCallister and Basil McCrea tabled written questions about the abortion issue.

Mr McCallister asked whether Mr Poots had received direct legal advice from the Attorney General John Larkin in relation to his department's draft guidance document for health and social care professionals on the limited circumstances for a lawful termination of pregnancy. In his response, Mr Poots said: "There is a strong convention that whether the Attorney General has been consulted is not disclosed, and I do not intend to breach that convention."

Mr McCrea had asked whether the minister will publish the full legal advice he received when drafting his department's draft guidance document of April 2013 for health and social care professionals on the limited circumstances for a lawful termination of pregnancy.

In response, Mr Poots said: "Legal advice received by my department is subject to legal professional privilege. It is not my intention to release this advice."

But Mr McCrea said the minister had a duty to sort the situation out in a "transparent and accountable manner".

Alliance MLA and member of the Stormont health committee, Kieran McCarthy, said not disclosing the information was "simply not good enough".

Mr Poots is expected to bring revised guidelines before the Stormont Executive within weeks.

TIMELINE

2001: Family Planning Association begins campaign for guidelines to clarify on termination in Northern Ireland.

2004: Court of Appeal says the Department of Health should inquire in to the provision of termination services.

2009: Guidance for health professionals is published.

2010: Guidelines withdrawn after legal challenge.

2013: Department of Health to publish draft advice.

March, 2013: Draft advice out for consultation.

October, 2013: Minister promises to bring revised guidelines before the Stormont Executive within weeks.

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