Legal status of Codes of Conduct

Written by Gloria González Fuster, Research Professor at the Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS) Research Group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

In many European countries, research integrity was initially approached from a self-regulatory perspective, leading to the elaboration by research institutions, or associations involved in the funding or supporting of research, of codes of conduct and similar documents with an ‘ethical’ ambition.

These documents are typically categorised as ‘soft-law’ instruments, to illustrate that they do not have by themselves legally binding force – they are not, strictly speaking, laws. This does not mean, however, that researchers are never legally bound by these codes.

Research institutions and associations can indeed, for instance, make it compulsory to comply with them in order to obtain certain funds, or to work in some institutions, by including explicit mentions to such ‘ethical’ documents in the relevant agreements. Then, codes will legally oblige the parties committed to the agreement. Researchers who are beneficiaries of research funds granted by European Union (EU) institutions, for example, are legally obliged to respect The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity of All European Academies (ALLEA).