Australia: Royal Commission into disability services – draft terms of reference and next steps

The draft Terms of Reference for a Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability are currently open for consultation until 28 March 2019.

Scope

The current scope of the draft Terms of Reference is very broad and would allow the Royal Commission to investigate all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. There is also set to be a particular focus on what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent and respond to these issues.

Areas of focus

The draft Terms of Reference suggest that the Commission will inquire into matters such as:

  • what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation;
  • what governments, institutions and the community should do to encourage reporting and effective responses to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability; and
  • what should be done to promote a more inclusive society, which supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

On its draft terms, it appears that the Commission will not only focus on abuse or the more emotive issues arising in the provision of services to people with disability but also the appropriateness of funding to the sector.

Next steps in the process

Following the consultation process, we expect the following steps will be taken:

  • Letters Patent will be issued, formally commencing the Commission;
  • the Commission’s premises will be established;
  • the Commission will release a website which will include papers, practices notes, public announcements and likely have functionality to receive public submissions;
  • Counsel Assisting will be appointed and associated legal support will be retained;
  • experts may be retained to assist with investigations, prepare research papers and prepare briefs;
  • invitations for public submissions may be issued;
  • the Commission may correspond directly with industry participants, potentially inviting them to disclose information in relation to certain matters of interest to the Commission;
  • a practice direction will be issued setting out how hearings are to be conducted and such matters as legal representation of witnesses, appearances at hearings, directions in relation to the document management, privilege and self incrimination and how evidence will be heard; and
  • notices to produce documents will be issued to industry participants.

What should you be doing?

Industry participants likely to be the subject of the Commission should consider:

  • engaging legal support to advise on the Commission process, including in relation to obligations arising from the Commission’s inquiry;
  • establishing an internal and external email protocol;
  • establishing a centralised point of contact (which may be a person or team of people) with responsibility at an operational level for managing issues raised by the Commission;
  • identifying all document management systems that may contain relevant documents;
  • identifying and creating briefs of key documents; and
  • preparing a briefing paper for their governing bodies and consider establishing a “board sub-committee” to oversee Commission related issues.

For further details on what to expect, we have prepared Guiding you through the Royal Commission into Abuse in the Disability Sector.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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