The impact of changing legislation on good research practice

It is an essential part of good practice that research is carried out in accordance with relevant standards, include those set out in legislation. This has long been recognised by the research community:

“We are committed to ensuring that research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards”The Concordat to Support Research Integrity (2019).

Research projects that involve the legal frameworks of more than one country can pose additional challenges for researchers and research organisations, and it is essential that those carrying out and/or sponsoring the research comply with all relevant legal requirements, seeking specialist advice and support when necessary:

“When conducting, or collaborating in, research in other countries, organisations and researchers based in the UK should comply with the legal and ethical requirements existing in the UK and in the countries where the research is conducted. Similarly, organisations and researchers based abroad who participate in UK-hosted research projects should comply with the legal and ethical requirements existing in the UK as well as those of their own country” UKRIO Code of Practice for Research (2009 and 2021)

Researchers and research organisations should keep aware of changes in relevant legislation in other countries that may impact on their research and ensure that their research meets the requirements of changed, or new, legislation. Equally they should be aware that some changes in legislation can mean it is no longer legal to conduct certain research projects, or can mean that proposed or ongoing research projects cannot continue in their current form.

They should also recognise that some changes in the law can have great societal impact, including impacting on the safety and/or wellbeing of research participants, researchers and other involved parties. This impact can be greater on certain parts of society and also effect equality of participation in research.

UKRIO has no remit or ability to give any advice or opinion on legal matters. Our role is to advise and support on issues of good research practice.

An important ethics issue for any research is the need to ensure the safety of researchers and others involved in the research, including any legal risks. Another issue is to address risks accruing to institutions under whose auspices the research is carried out.

We would therefore strongly recommend that the ethical review process of any research which may be affected by changes in legislation should seek advice from suitably qualified persons that the research carried out is within the provisions of the current law and that the research would not put researchers, other employees, students, participants or the institution itself in legal jeopardy.

We also recommend that institutions consider the need to provide appropriate pastoral support to those involved in the research whose safety and/or wellbeing is impacted in such circumstances.