Charities welcome HIV prosecution review

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

AIDS groups have welcomed a move by the Crown Prosecution Service today seeking opinions for a consultation to review criminal prosecutions for HIV transmission.

The National AIDS Trust (NAT) and Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) have published guidance, encouraging organisations and people living with HIV to respond to the CPS consultation.

The NAT opposes criminal prosecutions for reckless transmission of HIV. Despite the epidemic being around for 25 years, the first prosecution took place in 2003 and since then there has been much controversy over prosecutions, which has prompted the CPS to seek views from a wide range of people.

Deborah Jack, NAT chief executive, said: “We encourage people living with HIV to disclose to sexual partners but recognise that in the current climate of stigma and discrimination this can be very difficult.

“Criminal prosecutions only make disclosure more difficult and discourage personal responsibility for safer sex.

“We must reassert the need for everyone to take responsibility for their own sexual health instead of instinctively trying to blame someone else.”

Lisa Power, head of policy at THT, said: “It’s vital that people who have something to say about the way in which people are being prosecuted for sexual transmission of HIV respond to this consultation. The CPS need to hear what is really happening and how it affects the ability of people with HIV to live their lives, and the ability of doctors and others to provide services for them.”

The Crown Prosecution Service is seeking final views on a public document to explain the way in which it deals with cases involving the intentional or reckless sexual transmission of infections which cause grievous bodily harm.

To date, there have been eight convictions in England and Wales under Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA), all based on the reckless transmission of HIV.

Seamus Taylor, CPS director of equality and diversity, said: “We wish to issue a clear statement that explains the way we handle cases involving the intentional or reckless sexual transmission of infections.

“We wish to set out our position clearly as we want to promote greater confidence in the criminal justice system – a key aim for all agencies involved.”

Some of the seven specific consultation questions deal with the relevance, if any, of the defendant’s reliance on medical/clinical advice that he/she received, if any weight should be given to their ability to ensure the use of protection, and if the context in which the sexual behaviour occurred should be a relevant factor when determining whether it is the public interest to prosecute.

The CPS has consulted members of sexual health community organisations with professional knowledge in the fields of crime reduction and victim and witness support in drafting the policy, but the content is the responsibility of the CPS alone.

The final version of the public document will be published in early 2007.