Support services offered to people living with HIV will be able to benefit from better information around prosecutions arising from the sexual transmission of HIV, according to new report released today, which found that there was significant confusion around legal terminology and precautionary measures as a defence.

The study run by researchers from Sigma Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Birkbeck, University of London, was titled, Keeping Confidence: HIV and the criminal law from service provider perspectives.

It explores how criminal prosecutions for HIV transmissions in England and Wales are handled by people providing health and social care services for people with HIV.

Information arising from the study suggested that there was a “significant confusion” around the legal meaning of “recklessness”, and the specific precautionary behaviours which would provide a sufficient defence.

Recklessly transmitting HIV to a sexual partner is a prosecutable offence in England and Wales.

A conference at Birkbeck university of London, will launch the report, and will discuss its findings.

The conclusions of the report aim to assist people living with HIV through an improvement of best practice among HIV health and social care professionals, police, and others involved in trials and criminal investigations.

Findings are available through one dedicated online source which will contain information about the latest clinical and scientific developments that may impact on legal decision making.

It also suggests training on legal definitions, as well as defence arguments for those who provide both clinical and non-clinical HIV services, as well as a list of experts with an interest in criminal prosecutions in all HIV service organisations.

The lead author of the report, Dr Catherine Dodds, lecturer at the School of Hygiene said: “Although HIV health and social care professionals expressed diverse views about their potential role in such cases, they gave a clear sense that criminal prosecutions for the transmission of HIV would not improve public health.

“Instead, it was most common to hear descriptions of such cases leading to increased stigma, reduced trust between service users and providers, and traumatic consequences for those involved in such cases.”

Study co-investigator, Matthew Weait, Professor of Law and Policy at Birkbeck, said: “This important and innovative research demonstrates both the problems that HIV criminalisation creates for clinical and social care providers and the need for solutions at both national and regional level.

“Care providers working in HIV and sexual health are concerned primarily with the health and wellbeing of their service users – which is of course as it should be; but there is also evidence that criminalisation is compromising their work. Increased awareness and understanding of, and inter-organisational communication about, legal issues is critical, and Keeping Confidence makes practical recommendations as to how that work might be taken forward for the benefit of prevention and support.”

Discussions with seven focus groups were used as a basis for the research. Hospital based staff, HIV charity professionals, social care services and other organisations supporting people with HIV were consulted.

Sigma research, a social research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, led the study in association with the School of Law at Birkbeck. The study was funded by The Monument Trust.