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Royal commissions powers and costs under the spotlight

Royal commissions powers and costs under the spotlight

The powers and costs of royal commissions and alternative models will be examined by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), Professor Les McCrimmon, who is in charge of the inquiry, told…

The powers and costs of royal commissions and alternative models will be examined by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), Professor Les McCrimmon, who is in charge of the inquiry, told Lawyers Weekly.

McCrimmon said there have been only minor amendments in the 107-year-old Royal Commissions Act history and problems had been identified by past commissioners, including a lack of flexibility in the type of powers that can be exercised.

"The Royal Commissions Act is one size fits all, notwithstanding the type of enquiry, so there is no ability to tailor the powers that are vested in a royal commission to fit the particular needs of any particular inquiry," he said.

One of issues the ALRC will be looking at is whether different types of enquiries could be conducted under the act to give them a statutory foundation, said McCrimmon.

"An example of that is the Haneef enquiry and the Cornelia Rau enquiry were not royal commissions and, as a result, they have lacked powers to compel witnesses and to compel the production of documents so at is issue should there be greater flexibility in the types of enquires that can be constituted under the act?" he said.

Royal Commissions are also established by the government and are an ad-hoc enquiry as part of the executive arm, McCrimmon explained.

"An issue that arises is that [royal commissions] often contain powers which are similar to courts so there's an inherent tension, in [the question] ... should they have powers which are powers exercised by judges?" he said.

The ALRC will also be examining whether a less expensive model could be introduced, with estimates that the Royal Commission on the Building and Construction Industry cost taxpayers $70 million, the commission on the collapse of insurer HIH cost $47 million while the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody cost $50 million.

- Sarah Sharples

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