Royal Commission

Royal Commission
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 Commonwealth realms and other monarchies a Royal Commission is a major ad-hoc formal public inquiry into a defined issue. They have been held in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia. A Royal Commission is similar in function to a Commission of Enquiry (or Inquiry) found in other countries such as Ireland, South Africa, and Hong Kong.

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 (the Sovereign, or his/her representative in the form of a 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.

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 are usually chaired by one or more notable figures. Because of their quasi-judicial powers the Commissioners are often retired senior judges.

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


  • The mainland states held a number of Royal Commissions into the Railway Gauge issue.

Commonwealth of Australia

New South Wales

  • Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service ("Wood Royal Commission") (1994–1997) investigated Police corruption in New South Wales.
  • 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 New South Wales Prisons ("Nagle Royal Commission"), (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.
  • Chelmsford Royal Commission (1989–1990) investigated patient deaths due to induced comas at the Chelmsford psychiatric hospital in Sydney during the 1960s and 1970s


South Australia


  • 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, (1998–1999) (see 1998 Esso Longford gas explosion)
  • 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission ("Black Saturday Royal Commission"), (2009–2010) investigating the events and conditions surrounding the 2009 Victorian bushfires

Western Australia


  • Royal Independent Investigation Commission (June 2011), to examine the episodes of civil disobedience and alleged human rights offences committed in the aftermath of the February 2011 protests.


Hong Kong

  • 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)


  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Teoh Beng Hock case (2010 - )
  • 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

Saudi Arabia

  • 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


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