Legal liabilities and responsibilities

Legal liabilities and responsibilities that could arise out of the research project by reason of the local legal jurisdiction in which the project is to be conducted.

Data Protection Act 1998

If you handle personal information about individuals, you have a number of legal obligations to protect that information under the Data Protection Act 1998 (See the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website for more information on how to interpret the Act).  The following outlines the general principles . You must make sure the information is:

  • used fairly and lawfully
  • used for limited, specifically stated purposes
  • used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • accurate
  • kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary
  • handled according to people’s data protection rights
  • kept safe and secure
  • not transferred outside the UK without adequate protection

There is stronger legal protection for more sensitive information, such as:

  • ethnic background
  • political opinions
  • religious beliefs
  • health
  • sexual health
  • criminal records

Please also refer to Data Handling and Security section of these Ethical Principles

Security Sensitive Research

Security-sensitive research material, that can be interpreted as engaging Terrorism Act (2006) provisions, should be kept off personal computers and on specially designated university servers supervised by university ethics officers (or their counterparts).

Ethics officers should be a first, or early, point of contact for both internal university enquiries and police enquiries about suspect security-sensitive material associated with a university or a university member. Such material should be treated as having a legitimate research purpose unless ethics officers cannot identify it or the relevant researcher responsible for it

This material could be accessed easily and securely by researchers, but would not be transmitted or exchanged.  Examples of security-sensitive categories:

  1. commissioned by the military
  2. commissioned under an EU security call
  3. involve the acquisition of security clearances
  4. concerns terrorist or extreme groups

(Further information and guidance for the storage of security-sensitive research material see Universities UK:  (October 2012) Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance)

Health and safety

When designing a research project you must consider the health and safety of the person or persons undertaking the project and of the subjects of the research project.  For advice and guidance on Health and Safety issues please refer to the University Health and Safety Policies.

Professional Bodies

The principles outlined in this document are generic to all subjects. When conducting any research you should be familiar with the specific ethical guidance and professional conduct as outlined by the Professional Bodies of your subject area.  See Useful Links for examples of these.