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Gay man challenges Edwin Poots over blood ban decision

By Alan Erwin

Health Minister Edwin Poots is to face a renewed legal battle over claims of apparent bias in banning gay men from giving blood in Northern Ireland, it emerged today.

Even though the High Court has already declared the lifetime prohibition irrational, a judge rejected arguments that Mr Poots' stance was prejudiced by religious beliefs.

But a homosexual man who brought the original challenge is now set to appeal that aspect of the verdict.

In court yesterday his legal team confirmed they want permission to introduce fresh evidence in the form of comments Mr Poots made about his "Christian principles" when allegedly speaking about the case in the Assembly.

British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Mr Poots have also launched separate appeals against aspects of the original verdict.

Senior judges were due to hear full arguments next month.

But it has now been put back until January, by which stage the European Court of Justice is expected to have ruled on a similar challenge to France's ban on gay men donating blood.

The prohibition, put in place during the 1980s Aids threat, 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.

But Mr Poots maintained the ban in Northern Ireland on the basis of ensuring public safety.

Last October, a High Court judge ruled that his position on donations from men who have had sex with men deviated from the rest of the UK.

He found the decision was irrational and declared Mr Poots in breach of the ministerial code by failing to take the issue before the Stormont Executive.

Mr Poots' response to the verdict, made in the Assembly, has drawn scathing condemnation from Northern Ireland's most senior judge.

Referring to the minister apparently questioning whether he would get a fair hearing if he appealed, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan said it was unacceptable and damaging to the rule of law. As the case was mentioned in front of two other judges yesterday, lawyers for the gay man – identified only as JR65 – said they would be appealing the finding of no apparent bias by Mr Poots.

Outside court JR65's solicitor said: "This is a case which raises significant issues of constitutional law, and which drives at the heart of what our devolved government in Northern Ireland has the power to do."

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