Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority [1986]

Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority [1986] AC 112, [1986] Crim LR 113 primarily concerned the extent of parental rights to control a minor child and whether a minor could receive contraceptive advice or consent to medical treatment against the wishes or knowledge of their parents. It also addressed whether a doctor providing contraception or advice to underage patients would be guilty of a criminal offence.

Mrs Gillick, a mother of five children, had one child seek and receive contraceptive advice from a local doctor while below the age at which she could lawfully consent to intercourse. This advice was provided following guidance issued by the Department of Health and Social Security. Mrs Gillick sought a declaration from the court that the Department’s guidance was unlawful, as it interfered with parental rights and duties.

The House of Lords dismissed the application for a declaration. The court ruled that parental rights, as such, did not exist except to safeguard the best interests of a minor. In certain circumstances, a minor could give consent in their own right without the knowledge or approval of their parents. The test proposed by Lord Scarman stated that a minor could consent to treatment if they demonstrated sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed. This test, known as Gillick competence, has become integral to medical and family law.

Lord Fraser suggested that the doctor will be justified in proceeding without the parents' consent or even knowledge provided he is satisfied on the following matters:
  1. that the girl (although under 16 years of age) will understand his advice;
  2. that he cannot persuade her to inform her parents or to allow him to inform the parents that she is seeking contraceptive advice;
  3. that she is very likely to begin or to continue having sexual intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment;
  4. that unless she receives contraceptive advice or treatment her physical or mental health or both are likely to suffer;
  5. that her best interests require him to give the contraceptive advice, treatment, or both without parental consent.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham
ESSEC Business School

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.