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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 :
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:
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.
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.
 Larousse, L’affaire du sang contaminé : trois ministres en accusation, 2000