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Parental authority - Case study

This is a British case decided by the House of Lords and as such it creates a precedent for common law decisions on children's rights. These views have not yet been tested in Australian courts and the law here is still unclear.

Mrs. Gillick had four daughters under the age of 16 years. At that time, policy allowed a doctor to protect a girl against the potentially harmful side effects of pregnancy by issuing contraception. Mrs. Gillick asked her local health authority that her children not be given contraceptives or an abortion without her knowledge or consent. While the doctors encouraged children to involve their parents in such decisions they were not prepared to seek Mrs. Gillick's consent as the consultation between doctors and patients was confidential.

Not satisfied, Mrs. Gillick took legal action claiming that she should be consulted in such decisions. The House of Lords held that young people can make decisions about their lives and bodies if they have a mature appreciation of the issues, so Mrs Gillick lost her case. As children get older, the court said, the power of parents over them fades away.

The implications of this case affect areas of physical punishment and independence. Once a child has sufficient capacity, both intellectually and emotionally, any parental rights in that area end. Even where the parent restrains or punishes a child in the child's interests, it would be unlawful if done against the child's will. This case suggests that the traditional concept of strict parental control should be replaced by a partnership model of parent-child relations with diminishing parental power as the child matures.

Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority and Another [1985] 3 All ER 402

Children and young people at risk  :  Last Revised: Tue Nov 6th 2018
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