Survey reveals extent of Aids legal work

A SURPRISINGLY large number of lawyers have experience of acting for clients with Aids and HIV, according to the preliminary findings of a nationwide survey of lawyers.

Out of the 400 practitioners who have so far responded to EU-sponsored survey, 150 said they have acted for clients with HIV or Aids and many more said they wanted advice on how to help such clients.

Although most had handled only one or two cases, a few lawyers had been involved in more than 20 cases.

Survey co-ordinator Professor Avrom Sherr, of London University's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, said he was surprised by the extent of the need for criminal law services and the wide geographical spread of law firms dealing with Aids sufferers, as revealed by the preliminary results.

Sherr said most of the responses relating to criminal cases involving clients with Aids concerned drugs-related crimes. Some respondents said the disease could be used as a plea in mitigation.

The survey revealed that family lawyers are also representing clients with Aids, usually over attempts to block access to children because of fears of an infection. “These days the courts will not prevent access,” said Sherr.

Unlike criminal work in this field, which tends to be concentrated in large cities, family lawyers from all over the country were being consulted by Aids sufferers, often on the recommendation of others with the disease. But so far, fewer employment lawyers than anticipated have represented Aids sufferers, even though the survey was funded by the European Commission because of concerns about discrimination in the workplace.

“When you have been dismissed because of Aids or HIV you can lump it and try to find a new job, but you cannot find new children,” said Sherr.