Northern Ireland: Judge to decide if Edwin Poots showed religious bias in gay blood ban

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A High Court judge is to decide whether former Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots showed religious bias after repeatedly refusing to end the lifetime ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood.

In 2011, England, Wales and Scotland introduced a one-year deferral for gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood. However Mr Poots, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) known for his anti-gay views, decided to retain the lifetime ban in Northern Ireland, despite widespread criticism from health experts, fellow politicians, and LGBT campaigners.

In October 2013, the High Court in Belfast ruled Mr Poots did not have the power to maintain the ban and declared that he broke the ministerial code in failing to refer the matter to the Stormont Assembly.

Mr Justice Treacy said Mr Poots’ lifetime ban was irrational, although never reached a conclusion ruling that he displayed apparent bias that went beyond religious beliefs and into the realms of prejudice.

On Thursday, judges in the Court of Appeal directed that the case of a gay man who brought the original challenge to court must first be sent back for a determination.

Lord Justice Girvan said: “The appropriate course of action to ensure finality in relation to the first instance decision is that the matter should go back to Mr Justice Treacy to consider the question of perceived bias which he considered was not necessary to resolve.”

The unidentified gay man – known only as JR65 – was seeking permission from the court 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.

However, Lord Justice Girvan said that all issues should first be ruled on by the lower court.

He added: “If the matter goes on to the Supreme Court the same point may arise at that stage.”

Mr Poots – who is a ‘young earth creationist’ and believes the earth is 6000 years old – has previously said: “I think that people who engage in high-risk sexual behaviour in general should be excluded from giving blood”.

He has also claimed he believes the “natural order” for having a child is strictly between a man and a woman, and that gay couples should not be permitted to adopt.

Last month, Northern Ireland’s first and deputy first ministers clashed in a row over a court judgement about the province’s lifetime ban on gay men giving blood – following criticism by a senior judge of Health Minister Edwin Poots.

Mr Poots was sacked as Health Minister in a reshuffle last week, replaced by Jim Wells who also opposes lifting the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood.