The Centre for Social Ethics and Policy was set up at the University of Manchester in July 1986. It was an interdisciplinary centre, which was originally supported by staff in the departments of law, religions and theology, philosophy and education. The Centre's original objectives were:
"1. to undertake and publish research on issues of social ethics and policy and to promote the study of such issues;
2. to stimulate the development of educational programmes on the ethical, legal and policy implications of such matters of great public concern."
The original Directors of the Centre were Professor Anthony Dyson (religions and theology), Dr John Harris (philosophy), Margaret Brazier (law) and Mary Lobjoit (a GP and member of the University's Student Health Centre). The Centre was overseen by an Advisory Board with representatives from within and outside the University of Manchester. The Centre's focus was research, but it was also responsible for teaching a MA in Health Care Ethics, which was the first degree of its kind in Europe when introduced in 1987. Mary Lobjoit had been lobbying for several years for such a course to be introduced at Manchester. The Centre had links to an existing group, the Manchester Medical Group, which was active in the area of medical ethics.
The Centre was concerned to study ethical and philosophical issues which had a strong contemporary relevance. Much early work was done in the areas of bioethics, biotechnology, animal rights and human embryo research. However, it has been involved with many other subject since its foundation. For example, In the early 1990s, the Centre completed a major project on ethical issues relating to AIDS, which was sponsored by the European Commission.
One of CSEP's particular objectives was to encourage medical practitioners to engage with wider issues of medical ethics. The Centre also helped establish the United Kingdom Forum on Health Care Ethics and Law in 1991. CSEP was responsible for a series of monographs published by Routledge in the series Social Ethics and Policy, and sponsored an annual public lecture.
The Centre is now recognised as one of the leading centres for the study of healthcare ethics and medical law.