Appointment of Commissioners

On 5 April 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued Letters Patent to the Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC, Ms Barbara Bennett PSM, Dr Rhonda Louise Galbally AC, Ms Andrea Jane Mason OAM, Mr Alastair James McEwin and the Honourable John Francis Ryan AM, formally commencing the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

The Commission will run for approximately 3 years. Its Interim Report is due to be provided by 30 October 2020 and its Final Report by 29 April 2022.The Commissioners are to begin their inquiry as soon as practicable.

Terms of Reference

The Letters Patent contain Terms of Reference for the Commission. The Terms of Reference are relatively broad and authorise the Commissioners to investigate a number of matters, including what should be done by governments, institutions and the community to:

  • prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation;
  • achieve best practice in reporting, investigating and responding to violence against, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability; and
  • promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

On its terms, the Royal Commission will not only focus on abuse, neglect and violence against people with disability, but ‘all aspects’ of quality and safety of services to people with disability, including informal support such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Further, the terms state that the Commission is not required to inquire into matters that it is satisfied are being dealt with by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Next steps in the process

In the coming weeks, we expect the following steps will be taken:

  • 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?

In light of these steps, industry participants likely to be the subject of the Commission should:

  • engage legal support (potentially including retaining a barrister) to advise on the Commission process, including in relation to obligations arising from the Commission’s inquiry;
  • establish an internal and external email protocol;
  • establish 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;
  • identify all document management systems that may contain relevant documents;
  • consider identifying and creating briefs of key documents; and
  • prepare 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.