Obligations, consent and contracts in Scots law: re-analysing the basis of medical malpractice liability in light of Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board

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Professors MacQueen and Thomson have defined 'contract', within Scots law, as denoting 'an agreement between two or more parties having the capacity to make it, in the form demanded by law, to perform, on one side or both, acts which are not trifling, indeterminate, impossible or illegal'. This definition reflects the fact that Scottish contracts are underpinned by consent, rather than by 'consideration'. This, naturally, has the potential to be of great significance within the context of physician/patient relationships, particularly since the 2006 case of Dow v Tayside University Hospitals NHS Trust acknowledged that these relationships could be contractual in nature. This observation is of renewed importance since the landmark decision in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board, which found that physicians must ensure that they obtain full and freely given 'informed consent' from their patients, prior to providing medical services. In light of the present medical regime which requires 'doctor and patient [to] reach agreement on what should happen', the basis of liability for medical negligence, in Scotland, requires reanalysis: 'To have a contract only when the patient pays is not consistent with a legal system which has no doctrine of consideration in contract'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-176
Number of pages21
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Jan 2021


  • obligations
  • delict
  • informed consent
  • medical
  • medical law
  • best interests
  • negotiorum gestio
  • injury
  • contract

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