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No mandatory blood tests for attackers

8 March 2006

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson announced yesterday that victims of assault will not have the legal right to find out if their attacker is carrying hepatitis or HIV.

A working group led by the Very Rev Graham Forbes set up to look at the issue recommended that there should be no legislation for mandatory testing at the present time.

However, the group has agreed that more needs to be done to standardise and improve occupational and NHS care for police officers and others who have been exposed to bodily fluids through an assault. Detailed proposals will now be drawn up. The group also recommended the issue be reviewed in two years' time.

Ministers had announced in February last year that they wanted to give victims of assault the right to ask procurators fiscal for information about their attacker's health status. If this was not readily available, the victims would be able to seek a court order requiring the accused person to take a mandatory blood test. Refusal to take the test would be a criminal offence.

However a consultation exercise found respondents divided over the issue and the expert group was appointed to advise.

Revd Forbes said: "All members of the group, which included representatives of police officers, support staff, prison staff and clinicians, recognised the potential trauma of being exposed to a possible blood borne virus. That is why we are united in wanting to improve the care given to victims.

"We believe our recommendations offer the best way forward to improve that care today and also to gather evidence about how to shape future improvements. The group welcomes the Justice Minister's swift response to our report and the award of grant aid to enable us to complete our task."

Joe Grant, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said the report was a significant step in the right direction, adding: "We still think legislation will be needed but the project will further inform that debate."

HIV charity Waverley Care said the recommendations were a good move, as mandatory testing would lead to discrimination against gay men and black Africans, groups where HIV was more prevalent.

The group's initial report is available from the following link: www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/03/Bloodbornevirus .