The system of clinical ethics committees (CECs) in the United Kingdom is based on goodwill. No formal requirements exist as to constitution, membership, range of expertise or the status of their recommendations. Healthcare professionals are not obliged to use CECs where they exist, nor to follow any advice received. In addition, the make-up of CECs suggests that ethics itself may be under-represented. In most cases, there is one member with a training in ethics – the rest are healthcare professionals or administrators, although a lawyer is generally also included in the membership. This begs the question as whether CECs can ‘do ethics’, as well whether or not they can take seriously the requirements of due process, formal justice and human rights. Moreover, the role of the patient in this system is opaque.