Law reform to consider deliberate infection

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The Government will consider introducing a law making it a criminal offence to intentionally infect another person with a disease such as the Aids virus, it was announced last night.

On the day that Paul Georgiou was jailed by a Cypriot court for 15 months for knowingly infecting Janette Pink with the Aids virus, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced in a Commons written answer that he would be consulting on the issue later this year, but Aids charities immediately opposed the move.

Mr Straw said the proposals would be included in a consultation paper setting out a draft Bill for a wider reform of the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act. The draft would be based upon a report into the workings of the Act published by the Law Commission which recommended that the "intentional or reckless" transmission of disease or illness should be made an offence.

Derek Bodell, director of the National Aids Trust, said he had serious reservations about any new law and called for a "thoughtful and considered" consultation process with a range of groups. "Cases will be difficult to prove, the law could be misused for vengeance as well as used, and it may discourage people from finding out the results of an HIV diagnosis as then they could always plead ignorance," he said.

"Although this is not just related to HIV and Aids, and has a broader purpose for all diseases, we have also got to look at the broader health needs of the community."

There is now no specific offence which covers the transmission of the HIV virus, or any other disease. An HIV-infected person who had tried to pass on the virus out of malice could be charged with grievous bodily harm with intent. Those who simply fail to take the proper precautions might be charged under the lesser offence of causing grievous bodily harm.

But the difficulties of proving the case - showing that intercourse was the only possible cause of the infection over the years it takes to incubate - have led many lawyers to believe a successful prosecution would be unlikely.

In 1992, the authorities were proved to be powerless when an Aids scare hit Birmingham. A 24-year-old married haemophiliac, Roy Cornes, was accused of deliberately infecting four lovers, one of whom died before the case was publicised.

Mr Cornes had contracted the virus from a contaminated blood transfusion in 1985, as did two of his five brothers, all of whom were haemophiliacs. At the time, he claimed that all the women he had slept with had known about his illness, and that he had not been made fully aware of the gravity of his situation. While the case prompted calls for legislation, no action was taken against Mr Cornes before he died in 1994.