Lay or independent members

Lay members are essential to the integrity of any process of ethical review. Their role is to bring a different and independent set of perspectives to discussions about whether and how animals are used in science. 

RSPCA Lay Members forum 2019

Lay participants can be drawn from a variety of backgrounds. Examples include people from the arts or social sciences, or with expertise in ethics or law, or from animal welfare organisations, the local community or public services. The key point is that they should have no vested interest in the research and be independent of the establishment.

In the UK, the Home Office strongly encourages the participation of lay members within UK Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies (AWERBs), and lay participation is also common practice in human medical ethics committees.

In many countries, including Canada, Australia, Sweden and the USA, independent members who represent the wider community are a requirement for ethics and animal care and use committees.  Some countries also require a member, or representative, from an animal welfare organisation.

The RSPCA is committed to promoting and supporting lay membership within UK AWERBs and similar committees elsewhere.

Good training and induction is especially important for lay, or independent, members. We organised an annual meeting for lay and other members of AWERBs between 1999 and 2019. This Lay Members' Forum provided information and advice on all AWERB-related matters. In 2020 we will run four regional workshops for lay members instead, which will allow people to come together and share experiences of their work. Ideas for topics to consider at future Forums and workshops are always welcome. Lay members also attend our occasional AWERB-UK meetings, for all categories of member.

We also produce a Lay Members' Resource Book for lay and independent members of AWERBs, Animal Welfare Bodies, Animal Care and Use Committees, ethics committees and similar bodies worldwide. In addition, the RSPCA/LASA Guiding Principles for AWERBs  provide useful guidance for members of all types of committees reviewing animal use.  

If you would like to receive the Research Animals Department newsletter, which includes events for committee members, or you have any questions about the work of the AWERB or similar committees, please email us at: research.animals@rspca.org.uk.