The UK House of Lords has upheld a Court of Appeal ruling that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990 does regulate cloned embryos. In November 2001, the ProLife Alliance had successfully argued in the High Court that the Act did not apply, meaning that cloning - both therapeutic and reproductive - was at that time unregulated in the UK.
Following the initial High Court decision, the UK Government pushed emergency legislation through Parliament to ban reproductive cloning, whilst therapeutic cloning remained temporarily unregulated pending the Government's appeal.
The HFE Act defines embryos as cells which have undergone fertilisation. The ProLife Alliance had successfully argued that because cloned embryos were not the product of fertilisation, they were not covered by the act. Allowing the Government's appeal, the Court of Appeal said, in January 2002, that a cloned embryo did fall within the legal definition of an embryo, despite the fact that fertilisation has not technically taken place. The judges argued that the spirit of the law was intended to include cloned embryos. Despite being refused leave to appeal the decision, the group petitioned the House of Lords directly, claiming that the Court of Appeal had usurped the functions of Parliament.
The House of Lords, in a unanimous decision, said that even if Parliament had known of cloning at the time the Act was passed, it could not have intended to distinguish between embryos created by different methods. The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) welcomed the decision, calling it 'reassuring'. The chair of the HFEA, Suzi Leather, said 'the assurance that the regulatory system in the UK applies to all types of embryos provides a firm basis for research to take place in this country'.