France

Number of reported cases At least 43 How do we calculate the number of cases

Overview

HIV-related prosecutions in France previously used the law relating to ‘poisoning’ but now use the law relating to the ‘administration of harmful substances’. There have been at least 40 HIV criminalisation cases in France with the first known prosecution reported in 1998 with all cases based on the allegation that the accused did not disclose their HIV status before the act in question. All prosecutions have related to alleged HIV transmission related to sexual acts, with charges of exposure only applied as additional charges when the person had been charged concurrently with alleged transmission.

Intention to harm is not relevant to the law but might be taken into account when sentencing. The law itself does not recognise disclosure by the person with HIV or consent from their partner as a defence or exoneration of responsibility on the part of the HIV-positive person, although no cases where prior disclosure and consent took place have ever been prosecuted. Formal knowledge of HIV status prior to the sexual act is not an absolute condition for prosecution if it is deemed that the accused had to be aware of their status, even without having ever taken an HIV test.

People have not been prosecuted when condoms have been used as it is understood to satisfy the notion of protected sexual relationships. Having a low/undetectable viral load has been successfully used as a defence.

Prosecutions for HIV transmission in France are notable for a clear overrepresentation of heterosexuals with the majority of defendants being men and complainants, women. Given the demography of heterosexual epidemics, there is a significant under-representation of women from sub-Saharan Africa among female complainants.

Key moments:

In March 2019, the Cour de Cassation (France’s highest court) ruled that in the case of M.S…P.., the accused’s undetectable viral load meant that his bodily fluids could in no way be considered harmful and therefore the charge of “administration of harmful substances” was not applicable and the case was dismissed.

Laws

Code pénal

General criminal law (active)
Relevant text of the law

Poisoning: 221-5

To make an attempt on somebody’s life by using or giving any product which can lead to death is a poisoning. Poisoning is sentenced to ten years of imprisonment. It is sentenced to life imprisonment when committed under the circumstances established in articles 221-2, 221-3 and 221-4. The first two paragraphs of article 132-23 related to minimum sentencing apply to the offence established in this article.

Article 222-15 The administration of harmful substance that have impaired the physical or psychological integrity of others is punished by the penalties mentioned in articles 222-7 to 222-14-1 according to the distinctions provided for by these articles.

Article 223-1 Exposing directly somebody to immediate death risk or injuries which would lead to disability or severe handicap resulting from a deliberate breach of a specific safety or caution rule dictated by law is sentenced to a year of imprisonment and a €15,000 fine.

Further resources

Document in English: Presents an assessment of the legal, ethical, societal and health issues raised by criminal proceedings brought in France for acts of transmission or exposure to the risk of sexual transmission of HIV.
Author: Conseil national du sida et des hépatites virales

Document in French: Présente une évaluation des enjeux juridiques, éthiques, sociétaux et de santé soulevés par des poursuites pénales engagées en France pour des actes de transmission ou d'exposition au risque de transmission sexuelle du VIH.
Auteur: Conseil national du sida et des hépatites virales

Presents an assessment of the legal, ethical, societal and health issues raised by criminal proceedings initiated in France for acts of transmission or exposure to the risk of sexual transmission of HIV.

Document in French: Identifie et analyse l’ensemble des procédures pénales jugées depuis le début de l’épidémie. Différentes sources ont été systématiquement croisées : veille permanente du CNS documentation associative médias données des services du ministère de la Justice auditions.
Auteur: Conseil national du sida et des hépatites virales

Identifies and analyses all the criminal proceedings since the start of the epidemic.

Document in French: Analyse juridique approfondie des 23 procédures pénales pour transmission et/ou exposition au risque de transmission du VIH jugées en France
Auteur: Conseil national du sida et des hépatites virales

In-depth legal analysis of the 23 criminal proceedings for transmission and / or exposure to the risk of HIV transmission judged in France up to 2015

Document in French: Examine l’histoire de la criminalisation du VIH en France depuis 1991, et analyse certaines affaires importantes en termes de précédence – Page 9 du rapport.
Auteur: Observatoire du sida et des sexualités

Examines the history of HIV criminalisation in France since 1991, and analyses some important cases in terms of precedence - Page 9 of the report.

Document in French: “Cet article porte sur la genèse de la criminalisation de la transmission sexuelle du VIH en France, des débats parlementaires sur l’éventuelle mise en place d’un délit de dissémination des maladies transmissibles épidémiques en 1991 à l’essor des procès pour transmission du VIH au milieu des années 2000. ”
Auteur: Kira Ribeiro

This article deals with the genesis of the criminalisation of sexual transmission of HIV in France, parliamentary debates on the possible establishment of an offense around the dissemination of transmissible diseases in 1991 to the rise of prosecutions for HIV transmission in the mid-2000s.

In French: Décision importante de la Cour de cassation qui confirme que la pénalisation du VIH en France est limitée aux seuls cas de transmission.
Cour de cassation, chambre criminelle
Audience publique du mardi 5 mars 2019 - N° de pourvoi: 18­82704

Important decision from the Court of Cassation which confirms that the criminalisation of HIV in France is limited to cases of transmission only.

This information was last reviewed in November 2020