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BMJ. 2007 July 7; 335(7609): 10.
PMCID: PMC1910628

Fertility society calls for investigation into UK regulator's action after search warrants are declared illegal

Clare Dyer, legal correspondent

The British Fertility Society is asking the Department of Health to investigate a legal situation that forced the United Kingdom regulator of infertility treatment into a High Court climb down that could cost it more than £1m (€1.5m; $2m).

The society, which represents professionals who practise reproductive medicine, called for a full investigation into the collapse of a case brought against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) by the high profile infertility specialist Mohammed Taranissi.

Mr Taranissi launched the High Court action after police raided his two London clinics under search warrants obtained by the authority. Last week the court quashed the warrants as unlawful, with the authority's agreement after it admitted that a statement its chairwoman, Angela McNab, gave to magistrates when applying for the warrants was “not legally watertight because it did not give a complete picture of the regulatory history.”

The court ordered the authority to pay Mr Taranissi's costs. His solicitor, Michael Smyth, confirmed that the bill would exceed £1m, although this is subject to review by the court.

The raids came on the eve of a BBC Panorama documentary that made allegations about Mr Taranissi's practice. He is suing the BBC for libel.

Mark Hamilton, chief executive of the British Fertility Society, said, “The regulator needs to be accountable, and it needs to maintain the trust and confidence of the sector. In this case this has not happened, and the HFEA needs to look hard at how it can regain this trust.”

Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP and member of the Commons science and technology select committee, described the development as “astonishing and alarming.” He added, “Something appears very wrong at the HFEA if they make errors of this nature and then only concede at the door of the court at a cost of over a million pounds in public money.

“Given the apparent willingness of the HFEA to cooperate with the sensationalist piece of investigative journalism by Panorama—something surely inappropriate for a regulator—doubts must be raised as to whether the HFEA allowed a media timetable and presentational issues to conquer better judgment and due process.”

The authority said that it had acted in good faith and on advice and regretted any distress to Dr Taranissi's patients. It said that the Department of Health had a contingency fund for legal costs and that patients and clinics would not have to contribute.

The conclusion of the court case would not affect the case expected to be heard in mid-July by the authority's licence committee to decide on the renewal or retrospective granting of licences for Mr Taranissi's two clinics, it added.


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