Criminalisation of HIV transmission: implications for public health in Scotland

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7322.1174 (Published 17 November 2001)
Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1174

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  1. Sheila M Bird, senior statistician (sheila.bird@mrc-bsu.cam.ac.uk)a,
  2. Andrew J Leigh Brown, visiting professorb
  1. a MRC Biostatistics Unit, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 2SR
  2. b Department of Pathology, University of California San Diego Treatment Center, 150 West Washington Street, San Diego CA 92103, USA
  1. Correspondence to: S M Bird
  • Accepted 28 June 2001

Molecular investigation of an outbreak of HIV at Glenochil Prison contributed to the conviction of a former Glenochil drug injector, Mr Stephen Kelly, for culpably and recklessly transmitting HIV to a female sexual partner. We explain why the case of Rv Kelly has brought the medical and legal professions into conflict and explore its implications for public health and molecular science in Scotland. Firstly, even a modest decline in the uptake of HIV testing by those who are actually infected could herald a one third increase in new sexually transmitted HIV infections. Secondly, there is now need for a national proforma to assure the quality and legality of HIV counselling in Scotland as a safeguard for both counsellors and clients. Thirdly, we discuss curtailment of molecular research investigations with the potential to discover incriminating evidence about HIV transmissions unless laboratory protocols, or legal safeguards, can be designed which obviate deductive disclosure about individuals. Urgent review by the Scottish Executive is required to minimise negative impacts of the Glenochil judgement on public health and molecular science.

Summary points

Knowingly transmitting HIV is a criminal offence in Scotland as a result of the Glenochil judgment

Even a modest fall in the uptake of HIV testing as a result of the judgment could produce a one third increase in new sexually transmitted HIV infections

A national proforma is needed to assure the quality and legality of HIV counselling in Scotland as a safeguard for both counsellors and clients

Molecular research investigations may be hampered because of the ability of the police to use them to discover incriminating evidence about HIV transmissions

The Scottish Executive needs to take urgent steps to minimise the negative effects of the Glenochil judgment on public health and molecular science

Glenochil judgment

Stephen Kelly was one of at least 14 drug injectors …

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