RECs are responsible for reviewing all research involving human participants and personal data conducted under their auspices and undertaken by individuals employed by the organisation that does not come under the remit of the UK Health Departments and Health Research Authority. This REC responsibility may also include research that intends to re-use data from previous research.

RECs should review research proposals in a way that is independent, competent and timely. Ethics reviews should strive to notify a decision within a month of receiving a submission, and researchers and the research process should not be disadvantaged by RECs which are not sufficiently resourced to comply. ROs have a duty to make sure their RECs are functioning appropriately, and are resourced to do so. Ethics review timeframe should not exceed 60 days unless there are circumstances beyond the control of the RO.

RECs should provide supportive, reflexive governance to researchers and operate a system of ongoing monitoring and supportive reflection that promotes mutual learning for researchers and REC members.

In some circumstances RECs may authorise other sub-committees or their Chair to conduct reviews on research involving minimal risk. There should be no conflict of interest by anyone authorised by a REC to review research. A sub-committee or the REC Chair will be accountable to the REC and the appropriate organisational authorities for the decisions they make.

An organisation-wide REC might advise on broad strategy for ethics review and monitor performance overall, rather than consider individual proposals. Wherever they are located, RECs should follow the guidance of this framework, even at department level if this is where the decision to review a project is to be taken. If checklists are used to identify the type of review required, the checklists may be overseen by an independent review body at faculty, school or department level.

ROs should establish and publish working procedures and systems of documentation in relation to REC responsibilities. These should include:

  • Terms of reference and responsibilities of RECs. 
  • Scope of the authority of RECs and supervisory arrangements where review is delegated.
  • What researchers can expect from their REC/ethics review; how long such a review will normally take; how to appeal against a decision which is considered unfair. 
  • Procedures for reporting decisions to the main REC where a review has been delegated.
  • Training arrangements for REC members. Successful framework implementation requires the development of minimum standards of training and competence, which should be kept up to date with the changing social science landscape.