The Northern Territory does not have an HIV-specific law but in theory the general criminal law could be used to prosecute a person for HIV exposure, including charges of danger of death or serious harm (s174B), causing serious harm (s174E), or disfigurement/disabling/causing serious harm (s177) under the Criminal Code Act. The only time criminal charges are known to have been laid (1997), they were dismissed. Little is known about the case except that the accused was male.
The Northern Territory has provisions under the Notifiable Disease Act and the associated Guidelines for the management of people with infectious diseases who put others at risk of infection which allow the Chief Health Officer to direct a person living with HIV to take measures to prevent HIV transmission. The public health provisions are managed by health department staff, ranging from supportive interventions at a clinical level to, if a person fails to follow directions, detention. The Guidelines state that the least coercive actions should be used first, and also refer to the National Guidelines for Managing HIV Transmission Risk Behaviours which states health department staff should aim to place the person under the least restriction possible, and to de-escalate or discharge the person from management.
Criminal Code Act 1983
Section 174B Danger of death or serious harm
(1) For this Division, conduct that may give rise to a danger of death or serious harm includes exposing a person to the risk of catching a disease that may give rise to a danger of death or serious harm.
Section 174E Negligently causing serious harm
A person is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the person engages in conduct; and
(b) that conduct causes serious harm to another person; and
(c) the person is negligent as to causing serious harm to the other person or any other person by the conduct.
Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.
Section 177 Acts intended to cause serious harm or prevent apprehension
Any person who, with intent to disfigure or disable any person, or to cause serious harm to any person, or to resist or prevent the lawful arrest or detention of any person:
(a) causes any serious harm, or causes any other harm, by any means;
is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for life.
Notifiable Diseases Act 1981
Section 7 Person to seek medical advice
A person who has reasonable grounds to believe that he may be an infected person or suspect person shall consult a medical practitioner at the first reasonable opportunity.
Section 13 Chief Health Officer may ensure direction complied with
(1) Subject to an order under section 12(2), where a person is served with a notice under section 11(1) and the person fails to comply with the notice, the Chief Health Officer may make such order as he thinks fit.
(2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), the Chief Health Officer may order, either in writing or orally, that:
(a) an infected person or suspect person be removed to and detained at a hospital or other place until a medical officer authorizes the release of the person on the grounds that that person is not an infected person or is no longer a suspect person;
(b) premises in which an infected person or suspect person has resided, worked, attended for educational purposes or has otherwise occupied, shall be closed for a specified period or disinfected, or both;
(c) bedding, clothing or other articles which have been, or which are believed to have been, exposed to contamination by an infected person or to possible contamination by a suspect person be destroyed or disinfected; or
(d) a supply of water for human consumption or use which is or is suspected of being contaminated by a notifiable disease be treated to render it fit for human consumption or use.
(3) The Chief Health Officer may take whatever steps are necessary to give effect to an order under subsection (2).
Our thanks to Australian law firm Hall & Wilcox for their research assistance to confirm current relevant legislation.