Court nullifies section outlawing reckless spread of HIV

Kenya: The High Court has declared unconstitutional a section of the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act that sought to criminalise reckless spreading of the disease.

A three-judge bench comprising justices Mumbi Ngugi, Isaac Lenaola and George Odunga ruled Section 24, introduced by the State and criminalising the reckless spreading of HIV, was unclear and had no limits on which group of people was targeted.

"We so hold that Section 24 of the HIV and Aids Prevention and Control Act No. 14 of 2006 does not meet the principle of legality which is a component of the rule of law. The said section is vague and over-broad, and lacks certainty, especially with respect to the term 'sexual contact'," read part of the judgment.

As drafted, the section provided that a person who is aware of being infected with HIV or who is carrying and is aware of carrying HIV shall not, knowingly and recklessly, place another person at risk of becoming infected with HIV unless that other person knows that fact and voluntarily accepts the risk of being infected.

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Further, the section read that the person shall take all reasonable measures and precautions to prevent the transmission of HIV to others; and inform, in advance, any sexual contact or person with whom needles are shared of that fact, failure to which one would be jailed, if convicted by a court, for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine not exceeding Sh500,000, or both.

Justice Lenaola ruled that the section of law failed to meet the legal requirement that an offence must be clearly defined in law.

"To retain that provision in the statute books would lead to an undesirable situation of the retention of legislation that provides for vague criminal offences which leave it to the court's subjective assessment whether a defendant is to be convicted or acquitted," said the judge.

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In the case, filed by a lobby group called Aids Law Project, the court heard that the same section had warranted other people surrounding an infected person to seek his or her status from a medical practitioner without their discretion or involvement.

The lobby group argued that such risk of unwarranted disclosure of confidential information was against the affected person's privacy.

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Aids Law Project adopted the view that Section 24 of the Act was likely to promote fear and stigma as it imposed a stereotype that people living with HIV were immoral and dangerous criminals, and this would  negate the efforts being made to encourage people to live openly about their HIV status.

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