Publishers should refrain from circulating information which identifies
the HIV status of named individuals, unless they had the clearest
possible proof of consent to publication, the Constitutional Court said, writes Ernest Mabuza in Business Day.

The court passed judgment in the case of three HIV-positive women whose names were published in a biography of Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille without their consent. De Lille and the author of the biography, Charlene Smith, said they believed the women had placed their names in the public domain.

Chief Justice Pius Langa said the case was about the broad questions of the responsibilities of journalists and the protection of privacy in the media.

The court set aside the decision of the Johannesburg High Court, which held that De Lille and Smith were not liable for the disclosure of the three women’s HIV status, ruling that only the publisher was liable.

In 2000, De Lille received the names of the women from a report which was compiled by a Prof SAS Strauss after the women complained about HIV clinical trials conducted by the University of Pretoria.

De Lille passed that information to Smith.

The court found that Smith and De Lille were aware that the three HIV-positive women had not given their express consent to have their names used in the biography.

The court also increased the compensation that De Lille, Smith and the publisher had to pay the women from R15000 each to R35000 each.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.

Download the full judgement here