What is a Royal Commission?

There are various types of inquiries issued by State and Federal Governments, but a Royal Commission has the most far reaching powers to investigate, gather evidence and question witnesses. The power to hold a Royal Commission is given to the Federal Government under the Royal Commissions Act 1902. It is an inquiry carrying the full authority of the Queen. It is commissioned in the name of the Queen by the Governor General of Australia. In the present case, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was authorised by the then Governor General, the Hon. Quentin Bryce who issued a ‘commission’ in writing to the appointed Royal Commissioners.

The Royal Commission is tasked by the Crown through ‘Terms of Reference’. These are the matters which the Crown wants investigated. At times you may find yourself wondering why the Royal Commission is not investigating a particular area of child abuse, such as family violence or physical abuse. This is because it is bound to follow the Terms of Reference.

It is also important to understand that a Royal Commission is not a court. Although it looks a lot like a court and hearings are usually held in a court room with judges, lawyers and barristers, a Royal Commission’s sole function is to investigate, collect information and provide recommendations to governments and institutions. Royal Commission hearings are much more flexible than courts. They are not bound by rules of evidence, witnesses can be directly questioned by Commissioners and procedures can be relaxed to accommodate the needs of survivors. However it is also important to realise that the Royal Commission will not usually comment on whether an allegation is true or false or if someone is guilty or innocent. That is a function for the courts. In saying that, it is not uncommon for the Royal Commission to pass evidence on to police in order to assist a criminal investigation.

When will the Royal Commission commence?

Former Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard and Attorney General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP announced the Royal Commission in November 2012. The Terms of Reference were established and six Commissioners were appointed on 11 January 2013. The first public hearing commenced in September 2013.

Will there be compensation for victims?

As part of the Terms of Reference, the Royal Commission will provide recommendations to the Crown on methods of redress for victims of child abuse in Australian institutions. The Royal Commission is expected to recommend a National Redress Scheme, funded by the offending institutions, with the Commonwealth Government acting as “funder of last resort”. A final report on these recommendations is expected to be released in mid-2015.

How can I hear about what the Royal Commission is doing?

Kelso Lawyers has a strong history of assisting victims of crime, going back as far as 1988. We are committed to providing regular and accurate updates about the Royal Commission, both on this website and on our dedicated Facebook page.

Live webcasts of public hearings, updates and resources will also be made available on the government website – wwww.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au.

If you have additional questions regarding the Royal Commission, please contact Kelso Lawyers.