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Research Ethics

At Warwick, there is a comprehensive ethical scrutiny process to ensure that all research involving human participants, their data and/or tissue, addresses relevant ethical considerations and is subject to appropriate ethical review. Ethical scrutiny is required to protect the rights, safety, dignity and well-being of research participants, to safeguard the researchers conducting the study, and to maintain the research reputation of the university.

Your research will require ethical scrutiny if it involves collection of individual-level information relating to human subjects (including, in some circumstances, deceased human subjects) or if it brings you into an environment where you will have contact with children or vulnerable adults (even if they are not research participants) or if the collection of data involves any risks to your safety as the researcher, or to the safety of any other person involved in the research.

Collection of data used to be covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 but this was replaced by the General Data Protection Regulation on 25th May 2018.

'Personal data' means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person. Information relating to a living identifiable person includes expression of opinon about or intentions towards that person.

'Special categories of personal data' may include information about an individual's racial or ethnic origin; political opinions, trade union status, religious beliefs, health or sexual life, or biometric data.

You have individual responsibility for the proper storage and disposal of data.

Where research data is electronic it must be stored securely on Warwick servers. Any hard-copy research data must be stored in a locked filing cabinet in the supervisor’s office.

Personal data should not be kept for any longer than is necessary. E.g. If email addresses are collected in order to send a summary of study results out, once the summary has been sent the email addresses should be destroyed, paper documentation should be shredded

Your research will not require ethical scrutiny where you are engaged in purely literature-based research or documentary analysis, or using previously existing datasets where individual-level information is not provided, or using historical records that do not contain individual-level data. If in doubt, you must consult your adviser/supervisor, or the department’s nominated ethics adviser. The burden of responsibility for seeking the necessary scrutiny and approval lies on you.

Graduate and undergraduate students

Every student who embarks upon the writing of: (1) an undergraduate dissertation or other research project; (2) a postgraduate dissertation within the framework of the taught Master’s Degree programmes; and (3) postgraduate thesis work, is required, as part of their obligatory research training, to complete the standard form furnished by HSSREC in relation to their particular research topic. This should be done at the outset of the research project.

Approval is normally done within the department under rules approved by the university's Humanities & Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee (HSSREC).

Forms to be submittted to gain clearance are available at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/ris/research_integrity/researchethicscommittees/hssrec/apply/

Currently, all graduate and undergraduate students must have their work ethically approved by a member of staff other than their direct supervisor to ensure an independent review. This person will normally be the nominated ethical advisor, or, exceptionally, an alternative staff member within the department.

Ethical review must take place before any participant recruitment or fieldwork commences. It is recommended that ethical approval is sought as soon as possible. Normally, this will take place at the latest:

  • At the point at which your dissertation proposal is put forward for acceptance by the department (for undergraduate and taught LLM dissertations, and LLMs by research).
  • During the upgrade process (for PhD students).

In order to facilitate an early ethical scrutiny of fieldwork research proposals, the Law School has adopted a Research Ethics Protocol, adherence to which is now a requirement. Click on the link to read it. It has been amended to clarify the issue of retention. You should read and act in accordance with the Protocol.

Postgraduate students - please note: in exceptional cases it may be necessary for full ethical scrutiny to be conducted by HSSREC prior to approval being granted. You should be aware of the schedule of HSSREC meetings and allow sufficient time for your application to be (1) reviewed by the department and, if necessary, (2) referred to HSSREC before you commence participant recruitment or fieldwork. In cases where this procedure is necessary, we strongly recommend you to submit your application not less than four weeks before the next scheduled HSSREC meeting.

PhD students and those undertaking LLMs by research are advised to submit their application using the prescribed HSSREC form for standard or expedited approval, as appropriate. Also available on the same link are a template Participant Information Sheet and a template Consent Form.

Students on taught LLMs or undergraduate awards whose dissertations involve human subject research should include a section on research ethics as an appendix to their proposal form. As a matter of formality the proposal should also include a completed standard prescribed HSSREC Form. This must demonstrate that you have considered the ethical needs and implications of your research and taken appropriate steps to ensure that:

  • Informed consent will be obtained from research participants, (where appropriate, you should include the proposed informed consent statement you intend to use).
  • Data confidentiality and data protection issues have been properly addressed.
  • Steps have been taken assure the wellbeing of any children or vulnerable adults involved in the research, and any necessary CRB checks have been completed.
  • Where appropriate, that your safety and the safety of any research participants is properly assured.
  • Any other relevant issues of research ethics have been considered.

This appendix does not count towards the normal word limit for your proposal.

Nominated ethics advisor

The Law School’s current nominated Ethics Advisor is Dr Jill Wakefield. You are welcome to contact her for advice and information in preparing your application. Applications for departmental-level ethics approval should be submitted to her by e-mail at j.wakefield@warwick.ac.uk.

The University's Research and Impact Services (RIS) provide a fuller account of university policies and procedures for ethical scrutiny and approval, including a Warwick code of conduct, a statement on the ethical conduct of research, and other guidance. Please read these carefully.

You may also find it useful to consider other relevant codes or guidelines on the conduct of ethical research, such as that produced by the Socio-Legal Studies Association.

Academic and research staff

Ethical approval from the university's Humanities & Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee (HSSREC) is normally required for all human subject research. If the University of Warwick is not the lead organisation for the research and ethical approval has been granted by another institution’s ethics committee it should not be necessary to submit the work for approval at Warwick but the Chair of the HSSREC will require a copy of the approval granted before the research at Warwick commences.