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Tuesday 11 December 2007

Australia: Judge slams 'inadequate' sentences for 'reckless' HIV transmission

Penalty for reckless HIV sex 'inadequate'

The Australian | Natasha Robinson | December 04, 2007

A MAGISTRATE has criticised the inadequate punishment of HIV-positive offenders whose reckless sexual behaviour contributes to the spread of the disease.

Magistrate Greg Connellan said yesterday the maximum five-year jail term set down by the Victorian parliament for the crime of reckless conduct endangering serious injury was inadequate for HIV cases.

The magistrate's comments came as Sudanese migrant Lam Kuoth, 28, appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday and admitted having unsafe sex with a woman in defiance of public health orders that required him to use a condom.

Kuoth pleaded guilty to two charges of reckless conduct that put his victim at risk of contracting HIV.

The offence occurred on April 22, almost three weeks after Kuoth was placed on an order under Victoria's Health Act to practice safe sex and advise others of his HIV status.

A police summary tendered to the court revealed that a psychologist had warned Victoria's Department of Human Services that Kuoth was at "high risk of infecting others with HIV" 11 days before he committed the offence. Kuoth was detained and placed in isolation in a psychiatric hospital on April 27.

Mr Connellan told the court during yesterday's hearing that exposing a sexual partner to the risk of contracting HIV was "an altogether much more serious matter" than the maximum five-year penalty for the charge of reckless conduct endangering serious injury would indicate.

"In my view, the five-year maximum penalty applicable to that offence is not really an adequate reflection of the seriousness of that offending," Mr Connellan said. "The anguish caused to the complainant over a significant period of time is one important indication of the seriousness of these matters. The nature of the offending goes to the heart of significant public health protection issues."

The case comes eight months after Victoria's former chief health officer Robert Hall was sacked after failing to isolate a man accused of spreading HIV to multiple victims.

Kuoth will face the Victorian County Court on February 21.



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