The Outer Hebrides Fault Zone is a major reactivated structure cutting amphibolite-grade Lewisian basement gneisses in NW Scotland. During a regionally important phase of sinistral strike-slip movements, the influx of chemically active hydrous fluids along the fault zone was associated with the formation of a network of greenschist-facies phyllonitic shear zones. Later ESE-directed extensional strain was preferentially focused into these pre-existing zones of weakness. The syn-tectonic alteration of a relatively strong, feldspar/hornblende-dominated load-bearing framework microstructure to an interconnected weak layer microstructure of fine-grained, strongly aligned phyllosilicate aggregates leads to the long-term weakening in the fault zone. Comparison with experimental data suggests that this produces a shallowing of the frictional-viscous creep ('brittle-ductile') transition and a substantial reduction in total crustal strength. Similar processes may account for the apparent weakness of many long-lived fault zones.