Australia: New booklet clarifies that disclosure – even with condoms – is mandatory in NSW

A new booklet, ‘Disclosing your HIV status’, produced by the New South Wales HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) highlights that both public health and criminal laws mandate that diagnosed HIV-positive people in NSW must disclose their HIV status prior to any kind of sexual contact, even when condoms are used.

Under the NSW Public Health Act 1991, if you are HIV positive you are legally required to disclose your HIV status to a person before you have sex with them. Sex in this context refers to any form of vaginal or anal intercourse or oral sex.

It is no defence that the other person should have asked you about your HIV status or that they should have worn a condom or practised other safe sex procedures. You are still legally required to disclose your HIV status.

It is no defence if you wear a condom or practice other safe sex procedures without telling them of your HIV status. It is no defence either, if the social situation makes it difficult for you to disclose, for example if you have anonymous sex.

Because of the nature of this type of offence, there may be problems of proof as to whether you disclosed or not. Often it can be one person’s word against another.

The penalty for non-disclosure under the Public Health Act is a
maximum fine of $5,500.

There are also more serious offences relevant to non-disclosure of HIV status. Under the NSW Crimes Act 1900 it is a crime to deliberately, recklessly or negligently transmit or attempt to transmit HIV. This carries a sentence of up to 25 years imprisonment. Or, the crime of grievous bodily harm may be applied which carries up to 7 years imprisonment.

These criminal offences are based on the principle that an HIV positive person has the responsibility not to infect or put another person at risk of infection. This is a complex area of law. For more information about criminal charges relating to HIV infection of others, contact the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC).

Under civil law a person may also be sued for damages by an infected person, for deliberately, negligently or recklessly infecting them.

Wearing a condom or using another safe sex procedure would be a strong defence against the criminal charges or civil claim. Although it’s the law, the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) doesn’t believe you should be penalised for non-disclosure if, when you had sexual intercourse, you practised safe sex. For more information on this issue, contact HALC.

The story alerting me to the existence of the booklet, from Sydney’s gay newspaper, The Sydney Star Observer, is below.

I have also obtained a pdf copy of the booklet from HALC, and have made it available for download for seven days (until May 20th 2008) from here.

After that date, you should contact HALC directly for a copy.

by Harley Dennett
Sydney Star Observer – Issue 917 – Published 8/05/2008

Anonymous sex and condoms are no defence for failing to disclose one’s HIV status to a person before having sex, a new booklet launched this week by High Court Justice Michael Kirby advises.

But almost anyone else – like an employer, health insurer, sporting team – doesn’t need to know, according to the new publication by the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, aimed at clarifying contradictory public health and disclosure laws in NSW. Several men were charged under similar laws in other states last year.

One set of public health laws, with a maximum penalty of $5,500, allows no defence for not disclosing before anal or oral sex contact occurs, even if the situation makes this difficult. But reckless non-disclosure under the Crimes Act can carry a 25-year sentence, but under that Act safe sex could be used as a defence.

“There are some circumstances that the law requires you to reveal it, like before sex and in certain professions or sports like boxing, but by and large you don’t have to reveal your status,” Kirby said at the launch on Tuesday.

“That’s a good thing because there are no really efficient privacy laws in Australia to protect everybody. Even in our relatively enlightened country the fact people know you are HIV-positive can sometimes be a bad thing for a person to live with.”