Gillick competence is a term used in medical law to describe the ability of a child under the age of 16 to consent to medical treatment without the need for parental consent or knowledge. It is named after a legal case in the UK in 1985, where Mrs. Victoria Gillick challenged the Department of Health and Social Security’s policy to allow doctors to prescribe contraceptives to minors without the knowledge or consent of their parents. The court ultimately ruled that children under 16 years of age could consent to medical treatment if they had sufficient understanding and intelligence to appreciate the nature and implications of the proposed treatment.


The principle behind Gillick competence is based on the idea that as children grow older, they acquire the maturity and autonomy to make informed decisions about their own healthcare. It recognizes that parental consent may not always be in the best interest of the child, particularly in cases where a child may be at risk of harm or where their parents may have different cultural or religious beliefs that could impact their decision-making.


In order to be considered Gillick competent, a child must have the capacity to understand and retain the information relevant to the decision, weigh up the different options, and communicate their decision clearly. Healthcare professionals are responsible for assessing a child’s capacity to consent and determining whether the child is Gillick competent. They must also ensure that the child fully understands the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment, and that their decision is voluntary and not influenced by external factors.

The concept of Gillick competence has been controversial and subject to debate, with some critics arguing that it undermines the role of parents in their children’s healthcare decisions. However, proponents of the concept argue that it recognizes the evolving autonomy of children and the importance of ensuring that their best interests are always upheld.


In conclusion, Gillick competence is a legal principle that recognizes the ability of children under the age of 16 to consent to medical treatment if they have sufficient understanding and intelligence to do so. It reflects a shift towards recognizing the autonomy and decision-making capabilities of children as they grow older, while also ensuring that their best interests are always upheld. While it remains a controversial issue, it is an important principle in medical law that helps to balance the rights and responsibilities of parents, children, and healthcare professionals in ensuring the best possible health outcomes for children.