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.
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