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Sexual transmission of HIV and the law: an Australian medical consensus statement

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All Australian states and territories have criminal laws that may be applied in cases of alleged human immunodeficiency virus transmission and, in some jurisdictions, exposure. None of these laws are HIV specific; they generally relate to causing grievous bodily harm, serious injury or grievous bodily disease, or to endangerment by exposure to the risk of infection.1

There have been at least 38 Australian criminal prosecutions for HIV sexual transmission or exposure since the first known case in 1991. Such cases require that courts, legal practitioners and juries interpret detailed scientific evidence on HIV transmission risk and the medical impact of an HIV diagnosis. Analysis suggests that scientific concepts have been inconsistently applied in Australian trials involving HIV.1,2 In some cases, the risks and impacts of HIV infection may have been overstated.

It is not the intention of this consensus statement to directly critique the evidence in past trials, or to suggest that any miscarriage of justice has occurred. Rather, we hope to inform the criminal justice system to ensure that future allegations are addressed in a scientifically robust way, consistent with the interests of justice. This statement, which draws on a similar consensus statement published in Canada,3 represents…