Australia: Defendant in AU$750k Sydney gay civil case now faces criminal charges

July 30, 2010

A 55 year-old gay man who was successfully sued for AU$757,487 in April for allegedly misrepresenting his HIV-positive status as HIV-negative to his former long-term partner who is now also HIV-positive, is now facing criminal charges.

one count of “cause person to contract grievous bodily disease”. He will appear in Balmain Local Court on August 11.

Reporting of both the civil case outcome and the criminal charges has been extremely well done by the local gay newspaper, the Sydney Star Observer.  Its reporting makes for a stark contrast with the local gay press in neighbouring New Zealand, which last year demonised a man accused of non-disclosure who committed suicide following his arrest before any accusations could be proven in court.

Details of the civil case can be found in this report. Notable is the

[AU]$50,000 in exemplary damages [awarded] as an expression of [the court’s] “disapproval of disgraceful conduct”.

Mike Kennedy, executive director of the Victorian AIDS Council in Melbourne mentioned the case during the Q&A session of a recent meeting of anti-criminalisation advocates in Vienna (video will be uploaded of this meeting over the next few days).  He noted that since civil cases have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases, it has allowed for extremely damaging testimony as to the impact of being diagnosed HIV-positive to be recorded in court records.  He was concerned that future criminal cases would refer to such testimony (and the damages awarded).

Currently, reporting of this case has remained within the gay press but it is likely that the mainstream media will catch on following the man’s August 11th hearing.

This is not the first gay criminal HIV exposure/transmission case in Australia – although it is the first in New South Wales.  Michael Neal was previously found guilty of attempted intentional transmission, rape and reckless conduct in Victoria; a gay male sex worker was previously sentenced to 10 weeks in prison in Australian Capital Territory for being a male sex worker with HIV; and Stuart McDonald faces charges of ‘recklessly’ infecting eight men in South Australia. His trial begins on Monday, August 2nd.