- The term Royal Commission may also be used in the United Kingdom to describe the group of Lords Commissioners who may act in the stead of the Sovereign to grant Royal Assent to legislation passed by Parliament.
In states that are Commonwealth Realms a Royal Commission is a major government public inquiry into an issue. They have been held in states such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. In Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, a Commission of Enquiry or Commission of Inquiry is similarly organised.
A Royal Commissioner has considerable powers, generally greater even than those of a judge but restricted to the "Terms of Reference" of the Commission. The Commission is created by the Head of State (Sovereign, Governor-General or Governor) on the advice of the Government and formally appointed by Letters Patent. In practice—unlike lesser forms of inquiry—once a Commission has started the government cannot stop it. Consequently governments are usually very careful about framing the Terms of Reference and generally include in them a date by which the commission must finish.
Royal Commissions are called to look into matters of great importance and usually controversy. These can be matters such as government structure, the treatment of minorities, events of considerable public concern or economic questions. Some critics accuse Royal Commissions of being little more than a way to end public criticism of government inaction without actually doing anything.
Many Royal Commissions last many years and, often, a different government is left to respond to the findings. In Australia—and particularly New South Wales—Royal Commissions have been investigations into police and government corruption and organised crime using the very broad coercive powers of the Royal Commissioner to defeat the protective systems that powerful, but corrupt, public officials had used to shield themselves from conventional investigation.
Royal Commissions usually involve research into an issue, consultations with experts both within and outside of government and public consultations as well. The Warrant may grant immense investigatory powers, including summoning witnesses under oath, offering of indemnities, seizing of documents and other evidence (sometimes including those normally protected, such as classified information), holding hearings in camera if necessary and—in a few cases—compelling all government officials to aid in the execution of the Commission.
The results of Royal Commissions are published in, often, massive reports of findings containing policy recommendations. (Due to the verbose nature of the titles of these formal documents – for example, the Royal commission into whether there has been corrupt or criminal conduct by any Western Australian Police Officer – they are commonly known by the name of the principal Commissioner.) While these reports are often quite influential, with the government enacting some or all recommendations into law, the work of some Commissions have been almost completely ignored by the government. In other cases, where the Commissioner has departed from the Warranted terms, the commission has been dissolved by a superior court.
Notable Royal Commissions[edit | edit source]
Australia[edit | edit source]
- WA Inc Investigated the collapse of Bond Corporation and other large businesses in Western Australia.
- WA Police Royal Commission (2002–2004) investigated high level corruption in the West Australian police force.
- Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987–1991) investigated allegations of murder of Australian Aboriginals in prison.
- Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service ("Wood Royal Commission") (1994–1997) investigated Police corruption in New South Wales.
- Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry ("Cole Royal Commission") (2001–2003) investigated the conduct of industrial relations within the building industry.
- The Fitzgerald Inquiry into Queensland Police corruption (late 1980s)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking, ("Stewart Royal Commission"), (1980–1983)
- Royal Commission on the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, ("Costigan Royal Commission"), investigated organised crime influences and drug trafficking in a large trade union (1980–1984).
- Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking ("Woodward Royal Commission"), (1977–1980) investigated drug trafficking in New South Wales, especially links between the Mafia and New South Wales Police and the disappearance of Donald Mackay
- Royal Commission into NSW Prisons (1976–1978)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry in respect of certain matters relating to allegations of organised crime in clubs ("Moffitt Royal Commission") (1973–74) investigated organised crime in New South Wales.
- Royal Commission into the King Street Bridge failure, 1962–(1963) (see King Street Bridge (Melbourne))
- Royal Commission into the West Gate Bridge collapse, 1970–(1971) (see West Gate Bridge)
- Royal Commission into the Longford Gas Plant Accident, 1998 (1998–1999) Wikipedia article: 1998 Esso Longford gas explosion
- Royal Commission into HIH Insurance (2001–2003) investigated the collapse of HIH Insurance, then Australia's second largest insurance company.
- Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-For-Food Programme (Cole Inquiry) (2005) investigation into the alleged participation of the AWB into the Oil for Food program.
- Chelmsford Royal Commission (1989-1990) investigated patient deaths due to induced comas at the Chelmsford psychiatric hospital in Sydney during the 1960s and 1970s
- Royal Commission examining all aspects of the government's bushfire strategy in the aftermath of the 2009 Victorian bushfires
Canada[edit | edit source]
Hong Kong[edit | edit source]
- Commission of Inquiry on Allegations relating to the Hong Kong Institute of Education (2007)
- Commission of Inquiry on the New Airport (1998-99)
- Commission of Inquiry into the Garley Building Fire (1996-97)
Malaysia[edit | edit source]
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam Video Clip (2007- )
- Royal Commission for Police Reform (2004)
- Royal Commission to investigate alleged injuries suffered by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim while in police custody (1999)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the fire at the Bright Sparklers factory in Sungai Buloh New Village (1991)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate a fire at Sekolah Agama Rakyat Taufikah al-Halimah in Padang Lumat, Yan, Kedah (1989)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry on the collapse of the upper deck of the Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal in Butterworth (1988)
- Royal Commission on the Teaching Services (1971)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry to Investigate the Workings of Local Authorities in West Malaysia (1968)
- Royal Commission on Salaries and Conditions of Service of the Public Service (1965)
New Zealand[edit | edit source]
- Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (2000–2001) to look into and report on the issues surrounding genetic modification in New Zealand
- Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1984–1986) investigated the electoral system
- The Mahon Inquiry (1980–1981) looked at the causes of the Mount Erebus disaster—this commission was appealed to the House of Lords and set new legal standards for the conduct of commissions
- Royal Commission on Auckland Governance 
Saudi Arabia[edit | edit source]
- Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu (1975) in planning, development, construction, operation and maintenance of the various infrastructure and services of Jubail and Yanbu industrial cities.
United Kingdom[edit | edit source]
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children's Employment (1840)
- Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 (1850) planned the Great Exhibition and still exists as a charitable body endowed by the proceeds
- Royal Commission on the Health of the Army (1856–1857) based on Florence Nightingale's reports on medical care during the Crimean War
- Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom (1859)
- Clarendon Commission (1861–1864) looked into public education
- Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1869)
- Napier Commission (1883–1884), formally the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands
- Royal Commission on the control of the feeble-minded (1904) 
- Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (1908)
- Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
- Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1909
- Royal Commission on the University of Durham (1935) - Lord Moyne
- Redcliffe-Maud Commission (1966–1969) on local government
- Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations (1968)
- Royal Commission on the Constitution (1969–73), also known as the "Kilbrandon Commission" or the "Crowther Commission"
- Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1970)
- Royal Commission on the Press, United Kingdom (1961–62), (1974–1977)
- Pearson commission (1973-1978), Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury
- Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (1991)
- Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly (1998)
References[edit | edit source]
- The Times, 22 November 1904, Index pg7