Germany: Justice Minister says prosecutor handled Nadja Benaissa arrest properly

Hessian Minister of Justice, Joerg-Uwe Hahn has dismissed all criticism of the actions of Ger Neuber, the Darmstadt prosecutor who arranged for the public arrest and immediate incarceration of Nadja Benaissa, and then issued a press release.

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (English translation here), he announced on Wednesday that Neuber’s actions were “legally and technically acceptable”; that he had been aware of Benaissa’s impending arrest two days prior; and that the public interest outweighed Ms Benaissa’s right to privacy.

Last Saturday, The Guardian ran an (rather oddly worded, perhaps badly translated?) opinion piece by German journalist Sabine Rennefanz, outlining her criticisms of Neuber’s actions, and comparing the case to that of German MP, Joerg Tauss, whose child pornography charges were dismissed.

What is worrying is how the state prosecution made the private case into a public drama. The singer was arrested publicly before a gig in a Frankfurt nightclub and was taken into custody “because of the danger of repetition”, as the prosecutor’s office put it. The suspect was treated as if it was already proven that she had infected the man that sued her, which is not the case. It is not the first time that a prominent person has been the subject of an aggressive information policy from a state prosecution service, but questions remain: Benaissa was arrested and kept in custody “because of the danger of repetition”. But, if it was so urgent, why did they not arrest her earlier? The police had been on the case since June 2008.

When a member of parliament, Joerg Tauss, tried to defend himself against charges of dealing with child pornography, his claims were publicly dismissed by the Karlsruhe prosecutor, Rüdiger Rehring. Legal experts note a change in the information policy: previously prosecutors had silently worked in the background, shunning the public eye, while the lawyers were the celebrities trying to influence public opinion. Now they appear to be trying to limit control and influence reporting, as in this young woman’s case.

UK: Gonorrhoea prosecution ‘a dangerous development’

I am posting an excellent analysis by Dr Matthew Weait, Senior Lecturer in Law and Legal Studies at Birkbeck College, London (and author of Intimacy and Responsibility: The Criminalisation of HIV Transmission) of the recent successful prosecution of a male migrant for ‘recklessly’ transmitting the sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhoea, through non-sexual means.

A Dangerous Development
by Dr Matthew Weait
Senior Lecturer in Law and Legal Studies
Faculty of Lifelong Learning
Birkbeck College, London

In the recent case of R v Peace Marangwanda [2009] EWCA Crim 60, the English Court of Appeal was called upon to hear an appeal against sentence that has potentially profound implications for debates surrounding the criminalisation of HIV and other serious sexually transmissible infections. Summarised, the facts were that the applicant (PM) had been charged with two offences of sexual activity with a child, contrary to section 9(1) and (2) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It had been alleged that PM had met the mother of the children (E and Z), started a relationship and moved in with her in September 2005. In November 2005 PM was diagnosed with gonorrhoea, and he received treatment. A month later, in December 2005, the children, E and Z, were diagnosed as having contracted gonorrhoea. PM was charged, prosecuted and tried in 2007 after E made a complaint fo sexual abuse. The jury could not agree on a verdict after hearing PM’s defence that he was not suffering from gonorrhoea at the relevant time, and that it was rather a severe from of thrush. A retrial was scheduled to take place in June 2007. Prior to the retrial a compromise was suggested by defence counsel whereby PM would plead guilty to two counts of recklessly inflicting grievous bodily harm contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. on the basis that he had recklessly transmitted gonorrhoea to E and Z.

The plea was entered

“ … on the basis that the Defendant, whilst possessed of the knowledge that he was suffering from gonorrhoea, recklessly passed on the said gonorrhoea to the two complainants.

2. Such transmission was carried our not in any way by means of any sexual contact, direct or indirect. Such transmission was likely to have been occasioned in circumstances where the Defendant, after having touched himself and then failing to apply the proper hygiene standards, has then gone on to touch the children in an ordinary way. The Defendant would, on occasion, be involved in the daily care of the two young Complainants. This would include assisting with washing, dressing and general supervisory activities with the same.

3. It was foreseeable that such a condition as gonorrhoea could have been passed and accordingly the Defendant failed in ensuring that he adhered to the proper sanitary and hygienic principles which would have been ordinarily implied.”

PM was sentenced to two years immediate imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently. He was also recommended for deportation, disqualified from working with children for life and made subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

PM appealed on a number of grounds, one of which was that he had pleaded guilty to offences that were not medically possible and another that, even if it were medically possible, he had not acted recklessly. (The two other grounds are not of such immediate relevance here and are not discussed – see the case report.) The Court of Appeal agreed that the sentence passed was manifestly excessive and that a sentence of 12 months on each count should have been passed, to be served concurrently. For legal reasons this meant that the order relating to not being able to work with children was quashed, but the other orders were upheld.

Discussion

This is an important and worrying decision for a number of reasons. The plea of guilty to the charges under section 20 were entered on the understanding that the gonorrhoea had been passed through casual touching. PM, it was accepted, cared for E and Z (which included physical touching). The pre-sentence report (which is prepared to assist the judge in sentencing) stated that

“The defendant has pleaded guilty to the offence in accordance with the basis of plea, namely that he inadvertently passed on gonorrhoea to the two children due to poor personal hygiene.

Mr Marangwanda was, at the time of the offence, in a relationship with the mother of the two victims. He was periodically living at the family home and as such will have regular conduct with the children.

The defendant accepts culpability in as much as he acknowledges he passed on the sexually transmitted infection to the two girls due to poor personal hygiene.

The defendant accepts that his behaviour was reckless and that as a result, two young children contracted a sexually transmitted infection.”

It was on this basis that PM was sentenced, and the Court of Appeal accepted the reasoning. It states (at paragraph 12) that

In the judgment of this court, by his plea, the defendant accepted the medical possibility of the transmission of that disease. As he knew he had gonorrhoea, provided he knew that that disease may be transmitted by transference of mucosa by hand, that transference would have constituted a reckless act …

The Court goes on to say (at para 13) that

… by virtue of the basis of plea and the applicant’s pleas, he must have been accepting the possibility that in a domestic or familial setting the disease could have been transferred. In such circumstances it would have been his duty to take the necessary protection to ensure there was no transference. We are not persuaded that there is anything in that ground of appeal.

This is, it is suggested, deeply problematic, as are other aspects of the case. First, the Court seems to be suggesting that there is a duty to take the necessary protection against the transmission of disease. With respect, there exists no such legal duty anywhere in English law. A person is not reckless because he fails to take precautions against transmission; he is reckless if it is established that he was aware of the risk of transmission. This might seem a fine distinction , but it is an important one. If the Court is thinking particularly of the positive obligation that a carer has towards children, then it should have articulated that far more clearly. In the absence of clarification it suggests that a person living with HIV has a positive obligation – enforceable at law – to prevent onward transmission to sexual partners. (And, in the light of the recent Hep B case, that those infected with Hep B may have a positive obligation to alert others not to share their razors, for example). This goes beyond the principles established in R v Dica and R v Konzani. The CPS Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving the sexual transmission of disease indicate that the appropriate use of condoms by a person living with HIV would ordinarily preclude a finding of recklessness – they do not (because the law does not require it) state that a person living with HIV is under an obligation to use a condom (or, of course, to disclose status).

Another problematic aspect of the decision is that appears to be a bad compromise. The plea was entered and accepted in part, it seems, to prevent E (the child complainant) to have to give evidence at a retrial. It is for this reason that what would otherwise have been a case involving alleged sexual offences was transmuted into one concerning offences against the person. This was arguably artificial, and (as the discussion above about the Court of Appeal’s comments about the nature of PM’s duty shows) has resulted in – it is suggested – flawed reasoning.

Finally, although it wasn’t addressed in the Court of Appeal’s judgment, there remains the question of knowledge and scientific evidence of transmission. What follows is speculative in the instant case, but important, I think, to bear in mind.

1. PM moved in with E and Z and their mother in September 2005. He was diagnosed with gonorrhoea in November 2005 and the children in December 2005. If there is any possibility that PM may have infected E and Z prior to his diagnosis, and before he had any reason to believe that he might be suffering from gonorrhoea, there was no case to answer (see R v Dica; R v Konzani).
2. If, as the Court of Appeal accepted (albeit because of the “artificial” nature of the settlement that was reached on plea to avoid retrial) that gonorrhoea may be spread manually as the result of poor manual hygiene, then questions should have been raised as to the possibility that the source of the infection may have been elsewhere. There appears to have been no scientific evidence adduced, and the prosecution did not – it appears – seek any. The CPS Guidelines make it clear that there needs to be compelling proof that the defendant is the source of a complainant’s infection – and (critically) that a guilty pleas should not be accepted unless the prosecution believes that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. Cases involving HIV transmission have fallen because of this.

The Marangwanda case is unfortunate because it appears to be yet another example of the ways in which the ill-thought out approach of the courts to liability for the transmission of sexually transmissible diseases can – in the absence of clear thinking and understanding – have unintended effects.

Matthew Weait
23rd April 2009

Canada: Johnson Aziga and questions about the virological evidence

Here’s an excellent piece analysing flaws in the recent Johnson Aziga trial by Chris Morley, HIV Policy, Information and Publications Coordinator at George House Trust in Manchester, England. He writes this in a personal capacity.

He has had first-hand experience with some UK criminal HIV transmission cases, and contributed significantly to the HIV Forensics chapter of my book. He originally wrote this as a comment on my posting about the scientific evidence in the trial, but I thought it deserved a posting in its own right. He’s also written about the trial on the GHT website.

Johnson Aziga and questions about the virological evidence

by Chris Morley

Call a virologist

The defence lawyers failed to follow a key lesson from some recent English cases – which is to call a virologist, expert in HIV, as an expert witness, or at the very least commission an expert HIV virologist’s report to use as evidence.

Because the state called Dr Paul Sandstrom, director of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s national HIV and retrovirology laboratories as its scientific witness, there was a critical need to have an internationally respected independent expert HIV virologist giving evidence for the defence.

In well represented recent English cases, some level of expert HIV virologist involvement has led to a not guilty verdict, acquittal, case dismissed, and cases being abandoned. It makes a crucial difference to the outcome. It may not always cast enough reasonable doubt on all prosecution claims, but the English experience so far is all of prosecution failures where this is used, and usually of prosecution successes when it isn’t used.

From my reading of reports about the scientific evidence an expert virologist would have been able to question, or even demolish the assumptions and conclusions put forward by the prosecution.

Here’s the report, from The Hamilton Spectator, of the testimony of Dr Sandstrom:

“We were able to determine that all of the complainants and Aziga had a phylogenetically distinct form of HIV and that Mr. Aziga had the virus prior to contact with any of the women,” Sandstrom said. …..

Aziga and the women in the Hamilton infection cluster all had Clade A, which is rare in North America but endemic in Aziga’s native Uganda.

In this country, fewer than 2 per cent of those newly diagnosed with HIV have subtype A.

Phylogenetic analysis examines small differences in HIV genes by coding sequences of the HIV genome and comparing them to other HIV sequences in public databases.

HIV virologists can only determine the degree of similarity between two samples. They can’t produce a definitive match because unlike human DNA, HIV is not unique to an individual.

The analysis is also unable to determine the direction of transmission, Sandstrom said. So, theoretically, one of the women could have infected Aziga, instead of the other way around.

To resolve that issue, Sandstrom obtained a frozen blood-plasma sample drawn from Aziga after his HIV diagnosis 12 years ago. The specimen — collected before Aziga met any of the women — was phylogenetically analyzed and found to be nearly identical to the Hamilton infection cluster, comprising Aziga and the seven HIV-positive women.

“It means Mr. Aziga did not become infected by any of the women and that he had already been infected prior to contact with any of the women,” Sandstrom said.

No Proof

This does not fully address or prove transmission from Johnson Aziga at all – other explanations are at least a possibility, and need to be ruled out. Mr Aziga and the women complainants are not the only people in Canada with subtype A – there are over 1000 other people diagnosed with it and more who are undiagnosed. One or more of the others with HIV-A might have been the source of one or more women’s HIV.

Sandstrom did not consider it part of his job to explore this, or try to exclude this as a possibility. As the leading state HIV virologist he had a professional obligation to attempt to resolve this uncertainty and present the full picture. It would either have strengthened or weakened the prosecution case. Either way it needed checking.

Not my job to check

He was cross examined about this by the defence who argued that although Aziga and the women share a related virus, that did not mean that other persons, still unknown, might not also be carriers and part of the same transmission network. “It still remains, that your investigation does not rule out the possibility that there are other people ‘out there’ who are a part of the same infection cluster,” suggested the lawyer. Sandstrom said his investigation was “not directed at finding additional complainants or additional suspects,” but at providing confirmatory evidence for the footwork done by Hamilton police.

And the police, under cross examination, said it wasn’t their job either, to look for other possible sources of the women’s HIV.

Miscarriage of Justice and reversed burden of proof

This leaves me with serious concerns that there has been a miscarriage of justice. The defence is left to carry out an investigation, without police powers or resources, requiring the taking and testing of blood samples and complex and expensive scientific analysis, in an attempt to show there are other credible explanations. Does this not unfairly reverse the legal burden of proof?

Sexual history of complainants must be a central part of all transmission investigations

With HIV transmission cases, the proper police investigative practice of not looking into a rape complainant’s own sexual history, is often adopted. A woman’s sexual history is irrelevant to whether she was forced to have sex by someone; however it is critical to establishing which of her partners might have been the source of HIV in a consensual encounter. To attempt to prove X did it, you have to at least rule out A, B, C etc. And this at least can be proved conclusively with virology (HIV virology can prove someone didn’t transmit that HIV, but it can’t prove who did).

Rarely are the circumstances such that a complainat can be absolutely sure which of several partners might have been the source. The police are used to checking statements and seeking corroboration for everything. Why are claims about who transmitted HIV treated as if they cannot and must not be questionned? Why don’t the police routinely seek, and prosecutors demand, corroboration by ruling out all other possibilities?

For example, one of the women who died (H.C.) had three previous partners in recent years, two of whom were also migrants from Africa and, if HIV positive, likely also to have HIV-A. And an earlier date of infection from one of these men would better explain her surprisingly rapid development and death from Burkitt’s lymphoma, all apparently within 3 years or so of her supposed infection by him. (Reported here based on reports in The Hamilton Spectator )
And regarding the other women, see for example this article in The Hamilton Spectator.

Reasonable doubt opportunity wasted

With prosecution and defence expert witnesses contradicting each other, reasonable doubt would be raised far more strongly. Instead of calling an expert in HIV virology, the defence called Rafal Kustra, an associate professor of biostatistics with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. He was not able to make much of an impact, saying he was “underwhelmed” by the level of analysis used by Ottawa scientists who concluded that Johnson Aziga and seven HIV- positive women carry viruses that are so closely related they can be described as a single “Hamilton transmission cluster.” He criticised the method used by Sandstrom and that was about it. He didn’t produce any new evidence, and wasn’t even invited by the defence to offer a different interpretation of the same facts, or say what further evidence was needed, and which questions need to be answered, before the prosecution’s case can become credible scientifically.

The defence barrister did criticise the prosecution’s scientific claims and failure to eliminate other potential sources of HIV. This does not carry any real weight with judge and jury – in legal terms it is not evidence, more an argument. The defence lawyer is not a scientific expert who can credibly contradict Canada’s head of HIV virology, no matter how right he may be. He tried, but didn’t call an expert virologist as a witness who could have made the argument convincing with fresh evidence and interpretation based on professional expertise.

An independent expert virologist might have been able to show, for one or more of the infected, scientific reasons why the prosecution are drawing the wrong conclusions and missing out vital evidence.

Establishing reasonable doubt is the job of the defence. Succeed, and the judge would then have pointed this out to the jury. The judge’s response to reasonable doubts should lead to a not guilty verdict, or acquittal, on one or more of the charges.

Not guilty verdicts and acquittals might not have produced justice, but there doesn’t seem to be much certainty of justice in this verdict, from what I have seen reported.

No-one knows for a scientific fact whether or not he did transmit HIV to the 7 people whom the prosecution claim he infected. This can never be proved with current scientific techniques. The essential virological analyses and testing of other partners, that might have shown the virological connections between the HIV samples could have more than one credible explanation, seem to have been omitted.

The apparent failure to eliminate from suspicion the women’s other / previous partners raises serious doubts about any scientific claims made that he was the source, because those claims seem based on only some of the potential scientific evidence.

Herd mentality

A herd mentality can develop in big trials and high profile cases. The pressures to secure a conviction are huge. In cases involving HIV transmission, some of the media behave like a baying mob. Police and prosecutors may become convinced they have their man and be unable to entertain any other possibility. We’ve much experience of this in England and this case has the hallmarks of another, but in Canada.

Dysfunctional justice?

It’s a case that shines a light on the Canadian justice performing badly in a major trial. It seems there are errors as much in the prosecution, police investigation and justice procedures, as well as tactical mistakes by the defence. He’s been five years in prison awaiting trial and this was his 6th team of lawyers. This case makes the Canadian justice system look dysfunctional. I hope it redeems itself at the appeal stage.

US: Missouri man charged after ‘HIV threats’ during arrest

An HIV-positive Missouri man has been charged with “two counts of reckless exposure to HIV” because he “scuffled” with two police officers who were trying to arrest him and shouted at them that he was HIV-positive and “hoped they would catch the virus and die.”

The report, from The Columbia Daily Tribune, takes the (non-existent) HIV transmission risk seriously probably because the policeman did.

“This is something we deal with,” [a cop] said. “It is not something that happens every day, thankfully. It’s one of those things that we’re aware of” as a risk.

[The man] was eventually subdued and taken to a local hospital for treatment of injuries. The deputies also went to the hospital to begin treatment to minimize the possible risk of infection.

Unfortunately for the man, Missouri has pretty wide-ranging HIV exposure laws, which state:
“It is also unlawful for a person knowingly infected with HIV to act in a reckless manner by exposing another person to HIV without the knowledge and consent of that person…[by] purposely doing anything else which causes the HIV infected person’s semen, vaginal secretions, or blood to come into contact with the mucous membranes or nonintact skin of another person.”

It doesn’t say anything about empty threats, though. This sounds like a repeat of 2008’s Willie Campbell debacle.

Ireland: Court agrees ‘HIV’ spit was provocation to kill

Brendan O’Connor, 25, who killed 50 year-old father of four Edward Clancy, “by stamping on his head with his full body weight” did so because he spat at him and he thought the man was HIV-positive.

His plea of manslaughter was accepted by Ireland’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) “on the grounds that the spitting… constituted provocation.”

The case, an egregious example of institutionalised HIV stigma reported in today’s Irish Times, has got me spitting mad!

Deirdre Murphy, prosecuting, said the men exchanged words outside a pub in the town in the early hours of that day. Mr Clancy spat at O’Connor before crossing the road and moving away.

Det Sgt Fergal Patwell quoted from witness statements that O’Connor caught up with Mr Clancy and grabbed him.

“Brendan O’Connor began punching Edward Joseph Clancy, knocked him to the ground and stamped on his head,” he said. He said there was no evidence that Mr Clancy resisted.

Ms Murphy said a postmortem found the base of Mr Clancy’s skull was completely fractured and there was extensive bruising to his head and face.

She said the pathologist described it as a targeted attack to the head, and Mr Clancy was pronounced dead at Tralee hospital within an hour.

Det Sgt Patwell also told the court:

it was widely believed Mr Clancy had HIV and that gardaí [police] took precautions when dealing with him. “It appears there was no fact to it,” he added.

O’Connor’s lawyer said that:

his client deeply regretted the killing and expressed genuine remorse. He said HIV could be transmitted by spitting. “In my submission, the provocation was sufficient to cause this particularly violent reaction,” he said.

Until we remove the widespread ignorance about how HIV is transmitted (and it is NOT transmitted via spit or saliva) and the institutionalised HIV stigma across the entire criminal justice system, people actually living with HIV don’t have a chance in hell of justice in court.

UK: Man arrested for unprotected sex with several women

A 39 year-old man from Bournemouth has been arrested and released on police bail following complaints from several women in Exmouth, East Devon that he did not disclose his HIV status to them before they had consensual unprotected sex.

The case was first reported in Saturday’s Western Morning News with the unbelievably stigmatising headline: The HIV Timebomb.

A spokesman yesterday said: “Devon and Cornwall Police can confirm a number of women have come forward regarding allegations of their having had unprotected sex with a man who they now believe to be HIV positive. They allege he failed to disclose this to them.”

Unprotected sex without disclosure is a not a crime in England & Wales and police should not be arresting individuals based on complaints of unprotected sex.

Since then, various other papers and websites have run stories about the case, including This is Exeter (complete with quotes from local councilors – why exactly?) and, of course, the Daily Mail, which managed to totally misrepresent THT’s Lisa Power, who would never have “urged possible victims to contact police” in a million years.

This looks like a witch hunt to me (and to other UK HIV advocates with whom I am in touch), and is, sadly, another example of how the police get it wrong.

The man has been released on police bail until May 11. Let’s hope that the police fishing expedition, reminiscent of the case of a London woman in 2006, not only comes to nothing, but that the police are made aware of their serious errors.

UK: Report shows police mishandling of investigations into alleged criminal HIV transmission

Below are the opening paragraphs of a news story I wrote for aidsmap about a new THT report about how the police in England are handling investigations into criminal HIV transmission.

The full report, Policing Transmission, can be downloaded from THT.

 

A new report by the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) launched [on January 27th] at the House of Commons has revealed a systematic mishandling of complaints for alleged criminal HIV transmission in England & Wales. The report, Policing Transmission was welcomed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which acknowledged that “too many times we have got it wrong”.

There have been “scores, if not hundreds” of arrests since the first conviction for reckless HIV transmission in England and Wales, that of Mohammed Dica in October 2003, noted THT’s Sir Nick Partridge speaking at the launch of the report in the House of Commons, hosted by Lord Norman Fowler, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS.

Sir Nick said that whilst most police investigations had been dropped due to a lack of evidence, during the course of these ‘failed’ investigations – which had lasted up to a year – “lives had been turned upside-down and some came close to being destroyed”.

During the period 2005-6, there was an average of one arrest every two weeks. Concerned at this number of arrests and aware of the cost, in terms of “public resources and private misery”, THT approached ACPO and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in order to examine the role of the police in criminal HIV transmission investigations.

Read more here.

Italy: Condom use within marriage now grounds for divorce, even if one partner is HIV-positive

Slightly off-topic, but according to reports from admittedly rather suspect sources, Italy’s highest court has ruled that a previous decision by the Vatican Court – to nullify an 18-year marriage because the husband had used condoms to prevent passing on a chronic illness that can be transmitted via sex – can stand, and that a marriage without the purpose of children is not legal, even if there are health concerns over unprotected sex.

The ruling means that husbands and wives would risk divorce if they refused unprotected sex – even if their partner suffered from HIV.

If this is, indeed, true, then this is a perfect example of how combining an illogical belief system with the law is a dangerous combination.

Story, from the Austrian Times, also picked up and published in The Daily Star.

Safe sex in marriage illegal says Italian court


Austrian Times

21. 01. 09.
Italy’s highest court has ruled that having sex with a condom is grounds to end a marriage.

The country’s Supreme Court has confirmed a decision by the Vatican Court to nullify a couple’s 18-year marriage because they had practised safe sex.

The husband, who was identified only as Fabio N for legal reasons, suffers from a crippling rheumatic condition called Reiter Syndrome which is transmitted through sex. His wife, identified only as Elisabetta T for legal reasons, began religious divorce proceedings in 2003.

Italy’s highest court ruled that a marriage without the purpose of children is not legal, even if there are health concerns over unprotected sex.

The ruling means that husbands and wives would risk divorce if they refused unprotected sex – even if their partner suffered from HIV.

Canada: Ontario judge ‘humbled’ after revealing HIV ignorance

An Ontario judge whose ignorance of how HIV is transmitted got him into hot water last January has

“acknowledged that his behaviour was inappropriate” and taken steps to address the concerns raised by his conduct during trial, including seeking information about HIV from a local group…

Although extreme, the judge’s behaviour highlights how the judicial system can be prejudiced against people with HIV. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you don’t need me to tell you that.

Update: Although the story from The Vancouver Sun (below) appeared to be the end of the matter, an article in the January 26th issue of Xtra questions whether it is possible for the judge to overcome his prejudice in one day.

In reply to the complainants the [Ontario Justice Commission] wrote that Douglas has admitted that his actions were wrong and has been educated about HIV by visiting the AIDS hospice Casey House one day last summer.

“Staff who work with the patients daily provided judge Douglas with a better understanding of the science, of the disease and of the people affected by the disease,” wrote OJC registrar Marilyn King.

The visit to Casey House was conducted in secret. It only came to light after media outlets received a copy of the reply King sent to a complainant.

Brian Finch, an HIV-positive activist, says he doesn’t think one visit is sufficient.

“Such ignorance in this day and age, I don’t think one day is enough,” he says. “I don’t know what is enough but it does seem kind of like going through the motions. How is someone like that going to deal fairly with HIV criminalization? Somehow when it comes to HIV the presumption of innocence in our justice system is reversed.”

Later in the article, Richard Elliot, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network notes:

“I would hope at a minimum it would include basic information about HIV and how it’s transmitted and how it’s not transmitted,” he says. “It should include information about the risk of infection associated with various sexual acts, which is also sometimes at play in some cases that come before judges.”

Elliott says judges also need to learn about the realities of HIV transmission in other circumstances.

“There’s an often-inflated sense of what the risks are,” he says. “We certainly see that when talking about occupational risk for police, paramedics, firefighters which can lead to compulsory HIV testing.”

Education should also include more information about the communities most affected by HIV, says Elliott.

“It needs to try to get judges more conscious of the context in which their decisions take place,” he says. “There should be one or more people living with HIV or people from the particular communities most affected by HIV.”

Education is badly needed, says Elliott, but some judges may not be willing to learn.

“To a great extent it depends on the individual judges,” he says. “There will probably be some who are less open to it. But it’s fairly urgent. It’s past due, but better late than never. We don’t control the timing.”

Ont. judge rebuked for HIV comments
By Megan O’Toole, National Post
January 9, 2009

TORONTO — An Ontario judge who asked a witness with HIV to wear a mask while testifying has been humbled by an Ontario Judicial Council decision that includes a recommendation to better educate judges about the disease.

Justice Jon-Jo Douglas has “acknowledged that his behaviour was inappropriate” and taken steps to address the concerns raised by his conduct during trial, including seeking information about HIV from a local group, according to the council’s finding.

Ontario’s Chief Justice also suggested that material on HIV/AIDS should be included in future educational sessions for judges.

AIDS groups on Friday lauded the findings.

“The bigger picture here is making sure that judges do have appropriate information and they don’t approach their jobs with misinformation about HIV,” said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“There is no place for such misinformation and prejudice anywhere, especially in the justice system,” added Ryan Peck, executive director of the Ontario HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic. “People living with HIV deserve equal, respectful treatment.”

Douglas sparked outrage among the two AIDS groups in December 2007 after telling a Crown attorney he would hear no further evidence until a witness who had HIV and hepatitis C was either masked or moved into a separate courtroom to testify.

When Crown attorney Karen McCleave told the court she was not aware of any health concerns that would arise with the presence of the witness, the judge responded: “The HIV virus will live in a dried state for year after year after year and only needs moisture to reactivate itself,” transcripts said.

McCleave also produced an affidavit from an expert in infectious disease who said there was no risk of transmission without direct exposure to blood, semen or vaginal fluid.

An application to have Douglas removed from the case was denied by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, but he later removed himself voluntarily.

As a result of a complaint launched by the two AIDS groups, the judicial council launched a probe into the judge’s behaviour.

Sweden: Health agency criticised for not co-operating with police

The Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control has revealed in an article in a medical journal that they have refused to co-operate with police in tracking down individuals who may have broken Sweden’s draconian public health and criminal HIV exposure and transmission laws. Following a public furore, they have now backtracked somewhat.

Articles from the Associated Press and The Local.se below.

Swedish health agency blasted for HIV stance

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — A Swedish health agency revealed in an article published Wednesday that it had refused to help police track down people who knowingly infect others with HIV.

The revelation triggered harsh criticism and the government agency, the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control, agreed later in the day to resume helping police.

Officials for the agency were quoted in a medical newspaper as saying they had declined to cooperate with police because they disagreed with current legislation that criminalizes the willful spread of the AIDS virus.

The report in the Dagens Medicin weekly sparked anger among prosecutors, police and government officials, who accused the institute of placing itself above the law.

The institute backtracked and its officials also clarified their position, saying they had no problem with the law itself, but believed the penalties for spreading HIV were too severe. The willful transmission of the virus is punishable by a maximum 10 years in prison.

Jan Albert, an expert at the agency, said the threat of imprisonment harms prevention efforts because some people who suspect they may have the virus refrain from getting tested for fear of prosecution.

Albert said the agency had declined to help police on many occasions, “but we’ve come to the understanding that we’ll resume work with the police.”

‘Decriminalize spread of HIV’: agency
Published: 22 Oct 08 11:38 CET

A Swedish government agency is refusing to assist the police in an ongoing investigation concerning a person suspected of infecting a woman with HIV.

Under current legislation, a person with HIV risks spending one to ten years in jail on assault charges if he or she knowingly has unprotected sex with another person.

“The criminalization of HIV makes preventive work more difficult. Also, sentences are very tough,” Ragnar Norrby, director-general of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (SMI), told newspaper Dagens Medicin.

In a reversal of its previous policy, the disease control institute has recently refused to cooperate with prosecutors who requested information on a person suspected of spreading HIV.

“It is now our view that spreading HIV should not be classified as an offence,” Jan Albert, SMI head physician and regional manager, told Dagens Medicin.

“It is at least as much the responsibility of the individual person to understand that unprotected sex involves risks,” he added.

According to Ragnar Norrby, the threat of prosecution leads many people infected with HIV to remain anonymous, making it more difficult to trace the spread of the virus.

SMI also notes that the development of antiretroviral drugs has meant that HIV can no longer be equated to a death sentence.