Arthur Cox faces queries from HSE over tobacco role

Firm involved in threatened action over plan to ban branded packaging

Chris Macey of the Irish Heart Foundation, a client of Arthur Cox, who said the organisation  recently decided not to “use the services of companies that further the aims of the tobacco industry in relation to the influence of public health policy.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Chris Macey of the Irish Heart Foundation, a client of Arthur Cox, who said the organisation recently decided not to “use the services of companies that further the aims of the tobacco industry in relation to the influence of public health policy.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Legal firm Arthur Cox is facing questions from the Health Service Executive, one of its many public clients, over its involvement in threatened court action against the State over the plan to ban branded cigarette packaging.

The firm, among Ireland’s most powerful solicitors’ practices, is legal adviser to JTI Ireland, which has threatened to sue Ministers James Reilly and Leo Varadkar if they fail to halt plain packaging legislation by tomorrow.

The Irish Heart Foundation is also reviewing its relationship with the firm.

Arthur Cox gives the HSE corporate legal advice and it is service manager for the HSE’s panel of 30 legal advisers.

At issue in threatened court action by JTI Ireland, owner of the Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut brands among others, is a public health policy to erode the industry’s power to recruit new smokers.

Asked if the firm’s involvement in JTI Ireland’s challenge was a matter of concern for the HSE, the HSE’s spokeswoman said the organisation “should be informed of any direct conflicts of interest that exist between it and other clients of service providers”.

“The HSE has received no notification from Arthur Cox in relation to JTI Ireland. If it transpires that a conflict of interest exists, it would be a matter of significant concern to the HSE. This will be raised with Arthur Cox as a matter of urgency.”

Arthur Cox declined to say anything when asked how it reconciles involvement in the action by JTI Ireland and its work for the HSE and other public health bodies. Its other healthcare clients include the Mental Health Commission, An Bord Altranais and “a large number” of hospitals. “We don’t comment on client matters,” said the firm’s spokesman.

The company’s work for the Irish Heart Foundation is in jeopardy. “We adopted a standard operating procedure in the last few weeks that we wouldn’t use the services of companies that further the aims of the tobacco industry in relation to the influence of public health policy,” said Chris Macey, head of advocacy for the foundation. “So we’re acting on this at the moment, in all its forms and all its influences in terms of anyone so involved.”