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Ireland - Hep C scandal

Irish Times - THERE IS something deeply disturbing about a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to drop all charges in the last remaining case involving the infection of women with hepatitis C. Nobody will now be prosecuted for the injuries and deaths visited on more than 1,000 people by contaminated blood products over a period of 15 years. This public failure is part of a pattern whereby prominent individuals charged with serious offences have not been tried as a result of a culture of official apathy, excessive delays and legal challenges.

It has taken more than 10 years and a succession of legal actions to reach this unsatisfactory conclusion. No wonder the surviving women who were infected by hepatitis C are angry. We should be angry too. Without accountability in public life, dangerous practices, inadequate services and political corruption will persist. At this time of economic transition, the opportunity for root and branch reform of our administrative and legal structures must be taken.

A public outcry forced the then government to appoint Mr Justice Finlay to investigate the supply of contaminated blood products by the Blood Transfusion Service Board (BTSB) in 1997. He found three employees had been primarily responsible for the failure. A subsequent – and extensive – Garda investigation resulted in a detailed file being sent to the DPP in 1999. No action was taken until 2003, when two surviving BTSB employees were eventually charged with causing seven women to become infected with hepatitis C. Separately, the Law Reform Commission recommended – without effect – that those in charge of organisations responsible for death should be charged with a new offence of corporate killing.

The extraordinary delay in the DPP’s office was later categorised by a High Court judge as “blameworthy”. And it was used by the two defendants in a series of legal challenges, along with the death of witnesses, as reason to abort their trials. But the court ruled, following the death of one defendant in 2006, that the public right to have a trial on a serious charge outweighed such considerations. That judgment has now been effectively overturned by the DPP’s decision to drop all charges against the remaining defendant. Justice delayed has amounted to justice denied. And while nobody believes the BTSB officials behaved maliciously, they failed in their duty. As politicians, public servants and senior executives continue to evade their responsibilities, a new approach is required.