Resources for lawyers and advocates

Responding to the Criminalization of HIV Transmission or Exposure: Resources for lawyers and advocates

In response to the increasing use of criminal law internationally, as well as to the great need to develop tools for lawyers representing people living with HIV, this kit provides both informative documentation to support lawyers in the preparation of their cases and selected publications that can ultimately be presented in court. Prepared by: HIV Legal Network, AIDES, Groupe sida Genève, Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+)

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Last updated: August 2020

Table of Contents

Section 1: Understanding your client and your case
Some lawyers and service providers have lots of experience with HIV, while others may not have as much. There are a lot of common misconceptions about HIV — and left unchecked, they can pose problems for your client, in and out of the courtroom. This section includes basic information about HIV, HIV transmission and treatment, the realities of living with HIV and the complexity of HIV related criminal cases.

HIV and its transmission

F. Barré-Sinoussi et al., Expert consensus statement on the science of HIV in the context of criminal law, Journal of the International AIDS Society, 2018, 21:e25161July 2018.

For more information on the science of HIV transmission, go to section 4.

HIV testing:

Learning about HIV and living with HIV

For information on the HIV epidemic globally, visit the UNAIDS website.

Lawyers discuss challenges of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission cases

Section 2: Learning about the law (Canada and other countries)
This section provides detailed descriptions of the applicable national laws on HIV transmission and/or exposure, key decisions from national courts (some also included below in section 3), as well as articles from the relevant legal literature and other useful materials. It focuses on three countries — namely Canada, France and Switzerland — however, resources for lawyers and advocates from other countries can be found at the end of this section


N.B. 1: Resources published prior to October 2012 that describe the current state of the criminal law as it relates to HIV non-disclosure in Canada do not take into account the recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions in R. v. Mabior and R. v. D.C.

N.B. 2: Additional cases and a Canadian sentencing chart are available for defence lawyers, upon request. Please contact Cécile Kazatchkine at ckazatchkine [at]

Summary of current law

Key national cases

Post-Mabior 2012 decisions:

Court of Appeal decisions:

Trial decisions:

  • R. v. V. (22 November 2019), Ottawa, Court File No. 0411-998-17-51-27 (O.C.J., Boxall J.)
  • R. v. C.B., 2017 ONCJ 545 (CanLII) (acquittal, condomless sex with undetectable viral load).
  • R. v. W [2016] O.J. No. 3253 [accused’s identity intentionally removed] (Guilty plea, false pretense; absolute discharge)
  • R v. Thompson, 2016 NSSC 134 (condom use or low viral load or no ejaculation)
  • R. v. J.T.C., 2013 NSPC 105 (Acquittal; unprotected sex with an undetectable viral load)
  • R. v. J.T.C., 2013 NSPC 88 (Condom use; low viral load; critical analysis of R. v. Mabior)
  • R. v. Murphy, 2013 CanLII 54139 (ON SC) (Acquittal on oral sex count)
  • R. v. P. (19 June 2015) Toronto (ONCJ) [unreported — accused’s identity intentionally removed] (Evidence; Seaboyer application)
  • R. v. J.H., 2012 ONCJ 708 (Evidence ; Seaboyer application, Herpes)
  • Det S. Cullingworth, VPD v. B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, (26 March 2014) Vancouver (PC) [unreported] (Production order – Confidentiality of medical records)

Pre-Mabior 2012 decisions:

Supreme Court of Canada decisions:

Court of Appeal decisions:

  • R. v. Mabior (C.L.), 2010 MBCA 93. (Acquittal; use of a condom or unprotected sex with an undetectable viral load)
  • R. c. D.C., 2010 QCCA 2289. (Acquittal; unprotected sex with an undetectable viral load)
  • R. v. Wright, 2009 BCCA 514. (Viral load when available is very relevant)

Trial decisions:

  • R. v. Pottelberg, [2010] O.J. No. 5657 (Reasonable doubt whether complainant would have consented had he known)
  • R. v. Boon, 2012 ONSC 441 (Evidence; Seaboyer application to introduce complainant’s previous sexual history – see contrary decision, R. v. G. A.C., 2013 ONSC 3232)
  • R. v. J.A.T., 2010 BCSC 766; R. v. Nduwayo, 2010 BCSC 1277; R. v. J.U., 2011 ONCJ 457 (Unprotected sex does not necessarily represent a significant risk of HIV transmission — other relevant factors: position, number of acts, circumcision, ejaculation)
  • R. v. Edwards, 2001 NSSC 80. (Oral sex; protected anal sex; community standards among gay men)
  • R. v. Nduwayo, 2006 BCSC 1972 Summary; R. v. Nduwayo, 2010 BCSC 1277; R. v. Edwards, 2001 NSSC 80; R. c. D.C., 2008 QCCQ 629; R. v. Agnatuk-Mercier, [2001] O.J. 4729 (QL); R. v. Smith, [2007] S.J. 166 (QL); R. v. Imona-Russell, Unreported, Reasons for Judgment, 23 February 2009 (No legal duty to disclose when sex is protected)
  • R. v. Aziga, (4 April 2009), Hamilton CR-08-1735 (Murder conviction)
  • R. v. Bear, 2011 MBQB 191; R. v. Ratt, 2012 SKPC 154 (spitting cases)
  • R. v. Jones, [2002] N.B.J. 375 (QL). (Acquittal – Hepatitis C)

Prosecutorial Guidelines


Additional resources


Summary of current law

Key national cases


Summary of current law

Key national cases





United Kingdom



Section 3: Useful case law and guidance (international)
The context of criminal prosecutions related to HIV varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This section highlights some important and useful case law internationally, guidelines for prosecutors which limit the pursuit of such cases as well as relevant guidance for judges on HIV, Human Rights and the Law.

For more information about legal developments internationally, see the HIV Justice Network website.

Court Decisions:

Note: Further appeal dismissed on other grounds, Tribunal Fédéral, Arrêt du 30 juin 2009, 6B_260.

Prosecutorial guidelines

England & Wales


Handbook for judges

Guidance for prosecutors

Section 4: Understanding the science
This section provides a detailed and fully referenced compilation of the latest scientific evidence and materials regarding treatment, per-act risks of HIV transmission and proving actual HIV transmission from one person to another.


Review of available scientific research, including the risk of HIV transmission during sexual relations and the nature of HIV

Position Statements

Significant scientific studies on the risks of HIV transmission

Risks of HIV transmission — general

Treatment and Viral Load

Condom Use

  • S.C. Weller and K. Davis-Beaty, “Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission (Review),” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 1 (2002) No.: CD003255. (Abstract)
  • S.D. Pinkerton and P.R. Abramson, “Effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission,” Social Science & Medicine 44, 9 (1997): pp. 1303–1312 (Abstract).

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)

Oral Sex


Biting and Spitting

HIV as a chronic and manageable disease

Scientific evidence on proving actual transmission of HIV

Section 5: International recommendations
This section provides international recommendations on the use of criminal law in cases of HIV non-disclosure, transmission and/or exposure.

Section 6: The case against overcriminalization
This section provides information about the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and/or transmission across the world as well as actions taken to reduce inappropriate use of the criminal law against people living with HIV. The section includes materials describing the challenges associated with HIV criminalization and its impact on public health and human rights.

Global Advocacy

Policy Considerations

Key position statements against criminalization

Impact on Public Health and People Living with HIV


  • Positive Women: Exposing Injustice, 2012 (free online documentary produced by the HIV Legal Network, formerly the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and Goldelox Productions on the criminalization of HIV and its impact on women in Canada).
  • More HARM Than GOOD, 2013 (free online documentary produced by the HIV Justice Network on HIV criminalization and its impact on public health).
  • Consent: HIV non-disclosure and sexual assault law, 2015 (free online documentary produced by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Goldelox Productions on the problems of using sexual assault law to prosecute alleged non-disclosure of HIV).

Articles and Reports

The Latest Information: Keep Yourself Informed!