The High Court ruled on Wednesday this week that HIV-positive Godfrey Zaburoni was not guilty of intentionally transmitting the virus to his (now ex) partner, despite his knowledge of his HIV-positive status and the transmission risks of unprotected sex.
The prosecution did not have the evidence of intention beyond reasonable doubt that is required under Queensland’s criminal laws for a conviction. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, Zaburoni is instead only guilty of the lesser charge of grievous bodily harm.
Zaburoni concealed his HIV-positive status from the victim and had unprotected sex with her on many occasions during their 19-month relationship in 2007-08. A grade 5 sex education class could tell that Zaburoni either knew or could have predicted the HIV transmission, but that is not the test here. Proving he knew or could predict that he would transmit HIV to his partner is not the same as proving he actually intended that outcome. It’s close but not close enough under the current laws.
Some public outcry over the High Court decision has been misdirected towards the judges, when it belongs squarely at the feet of Queensland lawmakers. Judges are bound by the law, and in this case the law requires the prosecution to prove intention beyond reasonable doubt. There’s no point shooting the messengers.
Queensland’s criminal laws on HIV transmission don’t pass the sniff test, the pub test or the law of bloody common sense test. It doesn’t make sense that intentional transmission of HIV is somehow worse than where the transmitter has full knowledge of their HIV-positive status and the risks of unprotected sex, yet blatantly deceives and recklessly exposes the victim.
More than six years after Zaburoni’s victim was diagnosed with HIV, Queensland’s nonsensical criminal laws on transmission have finally made it to the country’s highest court. That leaves no legal options for the victim to pursue, other than suing Zaburoni for compensation.
The one positive from the controversial High Court ruling is that Queensland’s absurd necessity to prove intention of transmission beyond reasonable doubt has been thrust into the public spotlight, hopefully for the last time. Changes to the law are long overdue, before the next transmission occurs.
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