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Criminal Law » Commissions of Inquiry » Royal Commissions

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Royal Commissions

Royal Commissions are the most commonly known and referred to type of public inquiry. Although usually initiated by the Federal Government under the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth), States and Territories can also call Royal Commissions and they can also been called or issued jointly. An example was the recently concluded Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.

Like other commissions of inquiry, Royal Commissions have the power to summons and compel people to give evidence, produce documents and answer questions. There are also serious penalties for individuals and entities who fail to comply or co-operate with a Royal Commission.

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When are Royal Commissions called?

There is no clear test or rule as to when a Royal Commission is appropriate or should be called. Generally, it is up the Government to decide when it is appropriate. However, it must related to:

“the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth, or any public purpose or any power of the Commonwealth”.

Section 1A Royal Commissions Act 1902.

Practically, this has generally been interpreted by Governments to relate to matters of public importance or concern, or where recommendations and reforms need to be considered in light of systemic problems or failure.

Past examples of significant Federal Royal Commissions have included:

  1. Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991)
  2. HIH Royal Commission (2001-2003)
  3. Royal Commission into the Banking Industry (2017-2019)

What should I do if I am called as a witness in a Royal Commission?

The Royal Commission can summons individuals and entities.

If you receive a summons to attend and give evidence you must comply. Failure to attend court result in arrest under Section 6B and failure to answer questions or be sworn can constitute an offence punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment. Section 6.

Whether you need legal advice or representation will depend on why you have been called to give evidence.

Why Streeton Lawyers?

  • Proven track record of exceptional results
  • Accredited specialists in Criminal Law available
  • Rated a First Tier Criminal Law Firm in 2017, 2018, 2019 by Doyle’s Legal Guide
  • Your first consultation is free

Call 24/7 (02) 9025 9888

Free enquiry

Legal Representation

There is no right to legal representation at a public hearing, but if you have been summonsed to give evidence, or there is a chance the Royal Commission may make adverse findings against you (as an individual or an institution), leave to have representation will normally be granted.

If there is a direct or substantial interest in the subject matter, scope or purpose of the public hearing, an individual or institution can also apply for leave to have legal representation at that public hearing.

Having a lawyer granted leave to appear allows your lawyer to ask questions of witnesses, make objections on your behalf, and importantly make submissions for you to the Royal Commission about its findings and recommendations.

Self-Incrimination

As a witness, you must answer all questions allowed by the Royal Commission. This is the case even if the answer might incriminate you.

However, if there are current criminal proceedings before a court, and the answer might tend to incriminate you in relation those proceedings, objection can be taken to answering the question.

Importantly, for all witnesses, under Section 6DD answers or statements given in evidence before a Royal Commission cannot be used in criminal or civil proceedings against a natural person.

Despite this, it is often the case that evidence uncovered or facts found, lead to a recommendation of further investigation or prosecution action at the end of a Royal Commission.