International approach to Public Inquiries and legal cases

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International approach to Public Inquiries and legal cases

As part of her campaigning work and in relation to the forthcoming Public Inquiry, Diana Johnson MP requested information from the House of Commons Library. This briefing augments the previous posting and provides information on the International approach to Public Inquiries and legal cases, specifically in relation to the Republic of Ireland, France, Japan and the United Sates.

We reproduce it below with permission.

“This information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. It should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is required.

As part of a wider briefing request, you have asked for information about approaches to public inquiries on contaminated blood products in a number of countries.  I hope the briefing below will be useful.

You may also find a 2001 BBC news article, Aids scandals around the world, useful.  It provides a brief overview of international approaches.

 

1.1  Republic of Ireland

Two public inquiries were undertaken in Ireland (the Finlay and Lindsay Tribunals), both resulting in significant reform of the systems for supply of blood and blood products and establishment or modification of compensation schemes.

Finlay Tribunal

The tribunal of inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board (also known as the Finlay tribunal) was established by Parliamentary resolutions in 1996 to enquire into and report and make recommendations to the Minister for Health on the circumstances surrounding the use of contaminated blood products in the Republic of Ireland.

The terms of reference for the inquiry were set out in the resolutions, the tribunal used written evidence that had been collected as part of a legal case prior to the inquiry and took oral evidence.  More detail on the terms of reference and the procedures used by the Inquiry is provided in the 1997 report.

Lindsay Tribunal

The Lindsay tribunal was established through Parliamentary resolutions in 1999 to look into the development of hepatitis and HIV in a group of patients with haemophilia.  The 2002 report sets out the findings and recommendations.

 

1.2  France

Two legal trials were held in France in relation to contaminated blood.  These involved charges brought against officials and Government Ministers.  The French legal process involves enquiries and examinations of witnesses and evidence prior to formal court proceedings.

1992 trial

In 1992, Dr Garetta, the former head of the national blood transfusion centre (CNTS) was charged with the distribution (or allowing the distribution) of contaminated blood products to haemophiliacs between March and October 1985.  He was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment and fined 500,000 francs.  Two other former employees of the blood transfusion service, the director of research and the director of health were also convicted.[1]

1999 trial

A Court of Justice of the Republic, a specially convened court to try ministers charged with crimes committed as part of their ministerial duties, tried the former Prime Minister, Laurent Fabius, former social affairs minister, Gergine Dufois, and former health Minister, Edmond Herve for charges in relation to contaminated blood.

The court consisted of 12 members of the French Parliament, 6 from each house, and 3 judges from the highest French court.  A 1999 BBC News article provided information about the charges brought against the ministers:

  • All three politicians were alleged to have delayed the introduction of a US blood-screening test in France until a rival French product was ready to go on the market.
  • Ms Dufoix and Mr Herve were also accused of failing to order the warming of blood products to kill the virus.
  • The former health minister was also charged with failing to implement a directive advising against accepting blood from high-risk donors, notably homosexuals, drug addicts and prisoners.
  • During the hearings, Mr Fabius argued that any mistakes were made by his administration.
  • As prime minister he could not have had the expertise to decide on such a complicated issue as how to combat the still new disease of Aids.[2]

The former Prime Minister and the social affairs minister were acquitted of manslaughter.  The former health minister, Edmond Herve was convicted but no sentence was handed down, the judge in the case said that due to the long history of the events, he had not benefited from the “presumption of innocence to which he is entitled.

More information about the trials in France is provided in the following news articles :

 

1.3  Japan

In October 1989 groups of HIV-positive haemophiliacs and relatives of deceased patients brought law suits against 5 pharmaceutical companies and the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The Tokyo and Osaka courts jointly recommended an out-of-court settlement in which each plaintiff would receive 45 million yen (approximately $450,000 in 1996), with payment divided 60/40 between the pharmaceutical companies and the government. More information about the legal case is provided in a New York Times article:

  • Five drug companies and Japan’s Minister of Health and Welfare agreed today to a proposed settlement with hemophiliacs who were infected with the AIDS virus through contaminated blood-clotting products, setting the stage for the end of seven years of bitter litigation.
  • The case has roiled Japan because it seemed to show that the Government was more interested in shielding Japanese drug companies from foreign competition than in protecting public health.
  • The settlement, which was recommended by courts presiding over the lawsuits in Tokyo and Osaka, would grant each plaintiff a lump-sum payment of 45 million yen, or about $430,000. Any plaintiff who develops AIDS will also receive a monthly payment of about $1,400. The Government, which is expected to formally accept the settlement on Friday, will pay 44 percent of the costs and the pharmaceutical companies 56 percent. The hemophiliacs and their families are expected to agree to the settlement soon.
  • Today, several top executives of the Green Cross Corporation, one of the drug manufacturers, knelt on the floor in apology to a delegation of victims at the company’s Osaka headquarters. As the mother of one victim loudly berated them, the executives bowed until their heads touched the ground.
  • The hemophiliacs and their families also received apologies from Baxter International Inc., of Deerfield, Ill.; Bayer A.G., of Germany, which exported the blood products to Japan from an American subsidiary; Cutter Laboratories; Nippon Zoki Pharmaceutical and the Chemo Sero Therapeutic Research Institute.
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  • Some plaintiffs have said they wanted apologies from the Government and the companies as much as they wanted compensation. Ryuhei Kawada, 20, a hemophiliac who is infected with H.I.V., which causes AIDS, said today that it was “extremely frustrating” that it took so long to obtain the apologies.
  • The lawsuits charged that the Health and Welfare Ministry, ignoring warning signs, did not approve the use of blood-clotting agents treated with heat to kill viruses until July 1985, over two years after such products were approved in the United States. Most of the clotting factors used in Japan were imported from the United States.[3]

In 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported that three former pharmaceutical executives were given prison sentences for continuing to sell blood products they knew to be potentially unsafe, after safer substitute had been made available.

 

1.4  United States

A number of legal cases have been brought against drug companies, such as Bayer and Baxter in the US in the decades since awareness of the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C through blood products has increased.

It appears that there were problems pursuing legal cases in some States as there it was found that product liability did not extend to blood products.  However, in one example, the New York Times reported in 1997 that the Governor of New York State at the time signed a piece of legislation specifically to allow legal cases of this kind to be brought against pharmaceutical companies.

In 2003, the New York Times reported, that whilst admitting no wrong doing, pharmaceutical companies had settled over 15 years of lawsuits, paying over $600 million dollars to claimants.

 

[1]     Larousse, L’affaire du sang contaminé : trois ministres en accusation, 2000

[2]     BBC News, Blood scandal ministers walk free, March 1999

[3]     New York Times, Japanese Suits on H.I.V.-Tainted Blood Settled, March 1996″

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