State and Federal governments can instigate various types of inquiries. A Royal Commission has the most far reaching powers to investigate, gather evidence and question witnesses. It is commissioned in the name of the Queen by the Governor General of Australia.A Royal Commission is bound to investigate issues set out in its ‘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 these issues are not included in this Commission’s 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 courtroom 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.