The Research Ethics Committee (REC) reviews all research proposals that intend to gather data from or about living humans and makes the decision whether to grant ethics clearance or to require amendments or clarifications to the proposal. The primary role of the REC is educative rather than policing.
The objective of the Research Ethics Committee is to raise awareness of ethical imperatives and improve research proposals to meet these imperatives. This educative and facilitative function is consistent with South Africa's Constitution which prohibits participation in research without informed consent (s 12(2)(c)). The Committee's function also complies with national legislation - the National Health Act 61 of 2003 - which defines 'health' very broadly to include the well-being of all humans, and 'health research' as including 'surveys, interviews, focus groups or ethnographic observations'.
The Law Faculty requires that all researchers planning to conduct research that will gather data from or about living humans must apply to the REC for ethics clearance using the application form below. The application form must be submitted before the 10th of each month for consideration by the REC at its meeting in the last week of the month. The REC will review the application and make a decision whether to grant ethics clearance or to require amendments to or clarifications of the application. Applicants (and, if relevant, their supervisors) are encouraged to attend the meeting. The REC sees its primary role as educative rather than policing.
Ethics guidelines explain the issues which require consideration when designing a research project and making an application for ethics clearance. There are both general guidelines and discipline-specific guidelines; the latter cater specifically for the types of methodology used in certain disciplines. The Law Faculty has general guidelines and a policy document (see below) that you should consult when making application for ethics clearance. For a list of discipline-specific guidelines see the Faculty of Humanities Guide to Research Ethics: Research on Human Subjects (pages 26-33). You should consult these guidelines where appropriate.
In certain cases expedited review may be obtained for planned research and in other cases research may be exempted from review. The procedures for such instances are dealt with below. In all other cases the application should be submitted for full review by the REC. It should be noted that ethics clearance is granted for a maximum of 12 months (from date of approval). Should the research involving human subjects continue beyond this period (or a shorter period that might be stipulated by the REC) the researcher should apply for renewal or extension.
Expedited review: If a research proposal appears to offer no more than minimal risk of harm to human participants, it may be eligible for review and clearance outside of the regular ethics application schedule on the basis that full committee deliberation may be unnecessary. If a researcher believes their planned research falls into this category they should send an email or letter to Ms L Viljoen on email: email@example.com motivating why expedited review is appropriate together with sufficient information (e.g. the proposal) so that a decision can be made by the Chair of the REC to grant expedited review or refer the application to the REC for review.
Exemption from review: If research does not involve human participants in any way then it is not necessary to apply for ethics clearance. However, certain types of research involve human participants only indirectly (e.g. review and analysis of information freely available in the public domain such as newspaper reports, meta-analysis of published work, etc.), or uses data that has already been made anonymous, or involves observation of humans who remain anonymous. In such cases it is probable that an application for ethics clearance is not necessary but researchers planning to do such research should inform the Chair of the REC in writing about the research and provide a brief outline. If the research qualifies for exemption a letter will be issued to this effect.