Introduction to Medical Law

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
16 October 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module will provide students with a detailed understanding of the general principles of medical law, including the significance of patient autonomy, capacity, consent to medical treatment, medical negligence and medical confidentiality. While the focus of the module is on legal issues, ethical considerations underlying this area of the law will also be addressed.

Teaching will begin with an overview of some of the main theories of medical ethics and their application in the context of medical confidentiality. Several weeks will then be dedicated to the law on consent to medical treatment, in particular questions such as: who can make decisions where a person needs medical treatment? Is an adult's right to make his/her own decisions absolute, or can it be limited, for example, if the adult lacks an understanding of the consequences of the decision, or where the refusal of treatment would lead to the person's death? Who can make treatment decisions if an adult lacks the ability to make his/her own decisions, and according to which criteria? And what about medical treatment of children?

The last part of the module will discuss some of the main issues in the law of medical negligence. For example, how is the physician's duty of care to the patient defined? Is this a question for the medical profession to decide, or should the judges define the standard of care? And how can causation be determined? Looking at developments in case law from Bolam to Bolitho and post-Bolitho cases, the different approaches to this question, and their consequences for both physicians and patients, will be discussed. A special problem in the context of medical negligence is how much information does a physician need to give to a patient prior to medical treatment. The move from a position where it was left to the medical profession to determine what and how much information a patient should be given (Sidaway) to a patient-centered approach (Montgomery) will be analysed.

Module aims

The objectives of the module are:

- To provide students with the necessary foundations of knowledge so that the Learning Outcomes listed below are met

- To develop the capacity of students for critical analysis and to encourage independent research and reasoned argumentation.

Module learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of the module students will be able to:

- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the general principles of medical law, of the law on consent to medical treatment, and medical negligence

- Show understanding of the case law and legislation governing the areas covered by this module

- Demonstrate understanding of the interplay between ethical issues and legal principles in the context of medical law, and of the policy debates that led to the shaping of the law in the area

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

The module will be taught as a mixture of lectures and seminars. Students are expected to carry out preparatory reading prior to each seminar.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   LW232: FORMATIVE assignment    0% 
Coursework   Essay (LW232 Medical Law)    100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Sabine Michalowski, email: smichal@essex.ac.uk.
Law Education Office, lawschoolug@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr David Benbow
University of Sheffield
Lecturer in Law
Available via Moodle
Of 60 hours, 10 (16.7%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
50 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Essex Law School

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