We believe that the involvement of lay perspectives is essential to the integrity of any process of ethical review and we are committed to supporting and developing the role of lay members within UK Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies (AWERBs) and similar committees elsewhere.
Who counts as a lay member?
The term 'lay' is used to cover people with a diversity of backgrounds outside of the specific science being reviewed or conducted. This could include individuals with expertise in ethics, philosophy, law, animal welfare, the social sciences as well as members of the local community. Ideally, individuals should have no vested interest in the research and be independent of the particular science faculty or establishment.
Whatever their expertise or experience, the role of the lay member is to bring a different and independent set of perspectives to discussions about animal use.
Lay involvement in committees around the world
Members who represent the wider community are a requirement for committees in many countries including Canada, Australia, Sweden and the USA. Some additionally specify a representative from an animal welfare organisation.
The involvement of lay members is common practice in human medical ethics committees in the UK, and the Home Office encourages their participation within UK institutional Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies.
Resources for lay members
We have produced a guide to assist lay and other ethical review body members with their work: Lay Members' Handbook (2015). This edition (third) has been updated to take account of the amended UK law, and to make it more ‘international’. Although aimed at institutional ethical review bodies, sections of it are relevant to ethical review in other contexts. We have also developed short good practice guidelines for the housing and care of commonly held laboratory species.
To promote more careful and thorough consideration of replacement we have produced a resource for teachers, lecturers or trainers, and as a source of information for lay members of local AWERBs: The 'R' of Replacement - the potential for implementing alternatives to the use of animals in research and testing (2014) (PDF 2.95 MB).
Committee members should also find useful a joint report by the RSPCA and LASA which sets out Guiding principles on good practice for Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies (2015) (PDF 1.76MB). Though intended for the UK, the principles are relevant to all types of ethics committees and will be updated in the coming year.
RSPCA International together with our research animals team organises workshops to facilitate the formation and operation of ethics committees overseas. A sample workshop manual prepared for a course (in Poland) provides further information on issues such as assessing harms and benefits, the 3Rs, housing and care, and the sort of questions those involved in ethical review can ask: Ethical review course manual - Poland (2006) (PDF 1388KB).
If you would like to register on our mailing list or have any questions regarding the work of the AWERB or similar committees, please email us at: