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What is a Royal Commission?

Royal Commissions have coercive powers beyond those that a Judge might normally have in a Court. That means, in essence, they can compel you to answer questions. They are formally established by the Governor-in-Council (for Victoria) or the Governor-General (for Commonwealth Commissions) by letters patent on behalf of the Queen. A commission will be set up to investigate and deliver a report on matters that are of public importance and that have attracted controversy.

Commissions generally conduct a public inquiry, receiving many submissions and might have weeks or months of open hearings with a large number of witnesses. The total duration will depend on its  terms of reference but will often continue for longer than a year. It is not uncommon for the terms of reference to be revised. Commissions have a degree of independence from the Executive Government, but remain dependent on for its powers  and resources, therefore are subject to a degree of executive control.

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The Law Governing Royal Commissions

Royal Commissions are governed by the following legislation (Commonwealth & other States):

  • Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth);
  • Royal Commissions Act 1923 (NSW);
  • Commissions of Inquiry Act 1950 (QLD);
  • Royal Commissions Act 1917 (SA);
  • Royal Commissions Act 1968 (WA);
  • Commission of Inquiry Act 1995 (Tas);
  • The Inquiries Act 1945 (NT); Royal Commissions Act 1991 (ACT).

In Victoria, the Governor-in-Council is given the power to issue a commission by s88B of the Constitution Act 1975 (Vic) and the powers of Commissions are governed by the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958 (Vic).

If you have received a summons to appear, please contact us immediately for some advice about what is involved. You have a right to be legally represented. You should seek proper legal advice from experts who understand the process, procedure and the law as it applies in this context.