Last week, the Government tabled the report of the Australian
Law Reform Commission's recent review of the Royal
Commissions Act 1902 (Cth). The report, Making Inquiries:
A New Statutory Framework, is the first major review of the
Royal Commissions Act in its 107 year history. The report,
which contains 82 recommendations, addresses a number of other
issues, including the need for alternative, more flexible and
cost-effective forms of public inquiry.
The ALRC's key recommendations involve the establishment of
two tiers of public inquiry, with Royal Commissions being retained
as the highest form of inquiry to look into matters of substantial
public importance and a second tier of inquiry to be called
'Official Inquiries', established by ministers to look into
matters of public importance. The amended Royal Commissions
Act would be renamed the Inquiries Act.
Specific recommendations are made that distinguish between the
two tiers of inquiry, while ensuring that each tier has the
necessary tools to conduct investigations without inappropriately
infringing on the rights of a person involved with, or affected by,
inquiry processes. For example, Royal Commissions may still be able
to abrogate the privilege against self-incrimination in certain
circumstances while Official Inquiries, which the ALRC envisages
will need less instructive investigatory powers, may not. Royal
Commissions would also be able to abrogate 'client legal
privilege' if stipulated in the Letters Patent, while Official
Inquiries could not.
Currently, legislation does not require the tabling in
Parliament of Royal Commission reports. The ALRC recommends that
the current practice of governments to table reports be formalised
by a statutory requirement in the Inquiries Act. If for
any reason a report is not to be tabled, the Government would have
to publish a statement of reasons as to why this is the case.
Another key recommendation is the development of an
Inquiries Handbook aimed at preserving institutional
knowledge gained from previous inquiries. The Handbook would
contain information on a range of topics, including the
administration of inquiries, records management and the use and
protection of national security information by inquiries.
A major focus of the ALRC's review is the escalating costs
of Royal Commissions and inquiries in recent years and the
difficulty in accessing accurate information about these costs. The
ALRC therefore recommends that the Inquiries Act require the
Australian Government to publish summary information about the
costs of individual inquiries within a reasonable time of their
The ALRC's report and recommendations address a range of
other matters, including updates on implementation of inquiry
recommendations, the use and protection of national security
information by inquiries and inquiries affecting indigenous
The Government is now considering the policy issues raised in
the report. The report can be accessed and downloaded
If you would like any further information about the ALRC's
report or Royal Commissions and public inquiries generally, please
do not hesitate to contact us.
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.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Because of the high costs, royal commissions should only be convened to address issues of substantial public importance.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).