Table 3

Regional variations in child law in relation to consent

UK territory16–18 year oldsChildren under 16
England and WalesFamily Law Reform Act 1969 provides that a person over 16 is presumed to have capacity to consent to treatmentGillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech AHA [1986] AC 112
Children can give their own consent to treatment if they have sufficient maturity and understanding of the proposed intervention
ScotlandAge of Legal Capacity Scotland Act provides that those over 16 are presumed to have capacity to consent to treatmentSection 2(4) Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991
Allows a child under 16 years old to consent to medical, dental or surgical treatment provided that the medical practitioner attending him considers that he is capable of understanding the nature and possible consequences of the procedure or treatment
Northern IrelandAge of Majority Act 1969 (Northern Ireland) provides that a minor who has reached the age of 16 years can consent to surgical, medical or dental treatmentGillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech AHA [1986] AC 112
Children can give their own consent to treatment if they have sufficient maturity and understanding of the proposed intervention
  • 1. In all jurisdictions a person over 16 is presumed to have the capacity to consent to treatment—this refers to medical treatment and not to research.

  • 2. In all jurisdictions a child who has sufficient maturity to understand the purpose, risks and nature of the proposed treatment can provide their own consent.

  • 3. Neither the Age of Majority Act (Northern Ireland) nor the Family Law Reform Act 1969 interferes with the right of a person with parental responsibility for a child to authorise treatment. However, the law is complex in relation to the refusal of treatment by a competent minor in circumstances where there is a significant risk to health and either those with parental responsibility or those looking after the patient believe that treatment is necessary. Specific legal advice should be sought in those circumstances.

  • 4. In Scotland the case of Houston (Applicant) 1996 SCLR 943 sets authority for the concept that parental authority cannot over-ride the refusal of a competent minor. However, the court might still authorise treatment in some cases and specific advice should be sought in the relevant circumstances.