The major inquiries and investigations to remember in 2021

By Naomi Neilson|04 January 2021

The last 12 months were eventful for royal commissions, inquiries and for parliamentary investigations into possible law reforms and while many are yet to come to fruition, the state of laws and the legal profession in 2021 could look a lot different. Wig & Chamber looks at the top 10 examinations for lawyers to be aware of coming into a new year.

While the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants may be 2020’s most memorable inquiry into the legal profession yet, there were a number of inquiries, investigations and reports over the last 12 months that have attempted to perfect many laws and legislations to rectify issues in the profession and the criminal justice system. 

1: RCMPI: An investigation into the mismanagement of Lawyer X

Starting at the top, the RCMPI examined the greatest legal breach by a former criminal barrister against her underworld clients. Over 2020 (and most of 2019), the inquiry set out the potential breaches, examined many witnesses and questioned reasons behind Nicola Gobbo’s decision to inform on her clients to police. The final report was released just last month and finally puts an (almost) end to the scandal. 

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2: Reform demanded for class actions all-round

This one was quite a major conversation starter this year, with many firms and sectors weighing in on the importance of examining the class action market. Many defendants from legal firms have addressed the key issues stemming from class actions and other litigation funding concerns to demand that reforms are implemented for fairer justice. 

3: Magnitsky-style laws finally get a recommendation

In a recent win, the parliamentary inquiry tasked with examining whether Australia may benefit from US-styled Magnitsky laws has recommended that it does. While reforms were cautiously welcomed by the legal profession, there is reason to believe it may be instrumental in ensuring the government holds human rights abusers to account. 

4: WA Magistrates Court under spotlight over DV trials

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In a nine-month inquiry into the management of family and domestic violence matters, held in the Western Australian Magistrates Court, the investigation turned up concerns around trial delays on victims and recommended steps to improve responses. Outside of COVID-19 impacts, the court was still operating on a six-week delay.  

5: Domestic violence inquiry (national)

And on that note, inquiries into domestic and family violence were hugely controversial in 2020, and not for the subject matter. At first, the Senate inquiry was criticised for the way it conducted its investigation, with a final report handed in after only three months, sans public hearings and submissions. Then, a month later, the Morrison government announced a new inquiry that would build on a $150 million support package.  

6: Sexual harassment in the legal profession

The news that a former High Court justice sexually harassed six associates was quick to spark calls for change, including an inquiry into the profession’s managing of sexual harassment and bullying. While in this case, the Law Society of South Australia said that any such inquiry would be redundant, lawyers should watch this space in 2021. 

7: Calls for justice after Afghanistan war crimes inquiry

This one is likely to be talked about for a long, long time to come. An inquiry has found credible evidence of murder and wilful cover-up of war crimes in Afghanistan by some Australian special forces personnel, with legal experts stating the coming implications and the need for due process in justice in facing the aftermath. 

8: Climate change bill set for investigation

In November, a standing committee launched submissions for an inquiry that has been tasked with examining two climate change bills following an independent MP’s calls for the Morrison government to join the many other political parties aiming for change. In all likelihood, this one will be especially making headlines in 2021. 

9: Hong Kong legal treaties get Australian inquiry treatment

This inquiry was especially controversial this year, with it – and other tensions – behind the rising complications between Hong Kong and Australia. The federal inquiry was in strong support of suspending legal treaties between the two in response to the latter’s approach (or lack thereof) to human rights with a proposed new law. 

10: Bernard Collaery and Witness K investigation

This one is yet to become a formal inquiry, but it’s so important to the legal profession that we couldn’t leave it out. Crossbench senators demanded the parliamentary inquiry back in July to investigate the treatment of Bernard Collaery and Witness K within the criminal justice system and while nothing has come of it just yet, it’s worth waiting for. 

The major inquiries and investigations to remember in 2021
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