Royal commission

A royal commission is a major ad-hoc formal public inquiry into a defined issue in some monarchies. They have been held in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia. A royal commission is similar in function to a commission of inquiry (or, less commonly, enquiry) found in other countries such as Ireland, South Africa, and regions such as Hong Kong. It 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 their 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.

Notable royal commissions


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 or serving judges. They usually involve research into an issue, consultations with experts both within and outside 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 reports, often massive, 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 commission's chair.) 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.


New South Wales


South Australia

  • Commission appointed by the Governor-in-Chief to inquire into the loss of the "Admella" (1859)
  • Royal Commission in regard to Rupert Max Stuart (1959)
  • Splatt Royal Commission (1983–84)
  • Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission (1995) investigating the legal and political controversy that involved the clash of Indigenous Australian religious beliefs and property rights regarding the construction of a bridge to Hindmarsh Island
  • Kapunda Road Royal Commission (2005) investigating the circumstances of the hit and run death of Ian Humphrey and those of the trial and conviction of Eugene McGee
  • Child Protection Systems Royal Commission (2014–2016) investigating the effectiveness of the child protection systems that are currently in place
  • Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (2015) investigating opportunities and risks for South Australia
  • Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission (2018–2019) investigating the operations and effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin system[1]


Western Australia

Northern Territory


  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking and Government Corruption (Nov 1983-Dec 1984) (formerly The Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Inquire Into the Illegal Use of the Bahamas for the Transshipment of Dangerous Drugs Destined for the United States of America) A three-person Commission of Inquiry was appointed after US-television reports alleged the government was taking bribes from drug traffickers to look the other way as drugs flowed through the Bahamas bound for the United States.




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)



New Zealand

United Kingdom

See also


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