Covid-19 vaccinations for 12- to 15-year-olds were announced by the government last week, with parents able to opt in to have their children vaccinated, which requires parental written consent.
Young Islanders will be able to be vaccinated from 27 September.
Advocate Rose Colley, who heads the family law team at Viberts, does not believe the situation has been tested before in courts in Jersey, but said ‘if the child were not to agree with the stance taken by the parent in such a situation, the court would need to intervene and make a decision.
‘Much would turn on the age of the child and the extent of their understanding,’ said Advocate Colley. ‘The child would therefore need to be what is called Gillick competent.’
Gillick competency helps people who work with children ‘to balance the need to listen to children’s wishes with the responsibility to keep them safe’, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Being ‘Gillick competent’ stems from a 1980s legal case that looked at whether doctors should be able to give contraceptive advice or treatment to those under 16 without parental consent.
While there are no defined questions to assess Gillick competency, the NSPCC said considerations include the child’s age, maturity and mental capacity, their understanding of the issue, risks and consequences, and their ability to explain the rationale behind their reasoning and decision-making. Consent would also not be valid if a young Islander was being pressured or influenced by someone.
Advocate Colley said another situation that could arise ‘is that separated parents might disagree on the stance taken by one parent and again this would need to be an issue considered by the court’.
This was raised in Jersey in a court case earlier this year involving a separated couple, where the father wanted his child to have the MMR vaccination and flu vaccine, while the mother did not.
Family Division Registrar Elizabeth Daultrey ruled in March that the boy should be vaccinated in line with his father’s wishes. During the case, consultant paediatrician Dr David Lawrenson – who had treated the boy on multiple occasions – provided ‘clear advice that any potential risks are small and far outweighed by the benefits conferred by vaccination’, according to the judgment.