Since 2001, people living with HIV in the UK have been prosecuted for the reckless transmission of HIV. There are real concerns that these prosecutions are undermining efforts to stop the spread of HIV in the UK and are increasing stigma around HIV.
In 2015, LASS ran a workshop to provide up to date information about HIV & the Law. The law relating to the transmission of HIV is based on case law, as courts have responded to new situations by expanding the scope of existing legislation and setting precedents. This case law can only be created through contested trials or appeals.
The law used in England and Wales to prosecute people for HIV transmission is the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA 1861), under the sections relating to ‘grievous bodily harm’ (GBH). Proving GBH originally depended on physical evidence – the existence of a mark, but in the 1990s, in the context of concern about the ineffectiveness of the law to deal with high profile cases of stalking, courts succeeded in broadening the definition to include psychological harm. This subsequently meant that the transmission of disease could be defined as a crime. For a detailed timeline of legal developments, visit AIDSMAP for for more information.
Our recent workshop provided participants with up to date information about HIV and the law, using recent research by Sigma Research, updates from the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and policy statements by the British HIVAssociation and the Expert Advisory Group on AIDS. The workshop consisted of a presentation by Birkbeck lecturer Robert James, group work analysis of case studies, and action planning.
Presented here, is a summary record of the workshop which can also be used as a general briefing on the issues relating to HIV transmission and the law. This document will be of particular interest to people in the health profession, legal profession, police and CPS who may be involved with possible prosecutions. It is highly relevant for health workers and other support workers for clients who may have a blood borne virus or may be vulnerable to other transmitted infections.