Peer review is an important aspect of ethical review. It is used to assure the Health and Disability Ethics Committees (HDEC) of the scientific validity of a research proposal.


  • All study applications to the HDEC must include evidence of peer review for scientific validity.
  • This includes low-risk/pilot studies.
  • An application is considered incomplete without peer review.

See paragraph 39.4.3 of the Standard Operating Procedures for Health and Disability Ethics Committees: HDEC SOPs

Scientific validity

The National Ethics Advisory Committee’s (NEAC's) standards state that scientific validity includes:

  1. the relative merit of the research
  2. the design and methods
  3. the feasibility of the research.

The HDECs scientific peer review template provides more detail on what to include as evidence of the peer review process:

Note: Even if an application is accepted, the HDEC may request further scientific peer review.

Evidence of peer review – requirements

Literature review

A literature review is not sufficient evidence of the peer review process. You need to include in your application, evidence that the specific study’s protocol has been reviewed for scientific validity.

Funding approval letter

Funding approval letters may be accepted as evidence of adequate peer review, depending on the scientific review process for the specific funding board.

For example, Health Research Council (HRC) funding letters are accepted as evidence of the peer review process as HDEC recognise the high quality of the HRC scientific review process.

You need to:

  • detail the scientific review process for the funding body (for example, the composition of the review board and what was considered by that board when granting funding).
  • include any comments raised or noted by the peer reviewer with the funding approval letter, if available.

Review by a member of the research team

The peer reviewer should be suitably independent – ideally, not directly affiliated with the research team. However, for some low-risk studies in specialised areas, it may be acceptable to have less independent review.

Completing the HDEC peer review template does not guarantee acceptance of scientific peer review.

You need to:

  • ensure that all peer reviewers describe what they have considered.
  • peer review comments should include the aspects of the study they were satisfied with and the aspects they felt would benefit from revision.

Standing Committee on Therapeutic Trials review

Studies being submitted for Standing Committee on Therapeutic Trials (SCOTT) review approval do not need to include evidence of scientific review in their HDEC application.

SCOTT approval may be sought before, during, or after the HDEC application process.

You need to indicate in the application that the study will have SCOTT approval before the study begins.

Further information

For help in determining appropriate evidence of peer review, contact the HDECs Secretariat:

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