1. Authority, Role and Mandate of Research Ethics Committees (RECs)

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Research Ethics Committees (RECs) are sometimes referred to as Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), Research Ethics Boards (REBs), Independent Ethics Committee (IEC) or simply Ethics Committee (EC). The legal status of RECs varies from country to country and they may be set up, and operate, according to different models. Most frequently, RECs will be set up by a government or an institutional authority (such as a hospital, research institution or university).

In some cases, RECs may be set up by private organisations. However, some countries do not allow ‘private RECs’ that are not publicly accountable in some way (such as through accreditation). There is, however, little hard data to suggest that the quality of ethics review conducted by private RECs differs from that of institutional or national RECs.

Despite legal and operational differences, the primary role of RECs remains the same:

  • to ensure the well-being, safety and protection of persons who participate in all types of research involving humans.

Ensuring this protection involves collaboration between RECs and researchers to ensure that research meets the highest ethical standards.

RECs will typically accomplish this goal by the combination of the following activities:
  • Ethics review and favourable opinion before the research starts.
  • The continuing review of ongoing research.
  • The active promotion of principles of ethics through education and training.