Legal groups, including the Law Council of Australia, have welcomed the appointment of Justice Peter McClellan as chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
On 11 January, the Federal Government formally established the Royal Commission, with Mclellan heading a six-member team of commissioners.
Mclellan is currently the chief judge at Common Law of the Supreme Court of NSW.
His almost 40 years of legal experience include being appointed as a Queen’s Counsel in 1985, being appointed to the Supreme Court of NSW in 2001 and being appointed the chief judge of the Land and Environment Court of NSW in 2003.
The Royal Commission will inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse and related matters.
The Commission will begin “as soon as possible”, with an interim report scheduled to be handed down no later than 30 June 2014.
“The Law Council’s submission regarding the Terms of Reference highlighted a need to appoint multiple commissioners, including at least one commissioner who was of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent and/or a commissioner who had particular experience in working with indigenous people,” said Joe Catanzariti (pictured), the president of the Law Council of Australia. “The Law Council is pleased multiple commissioners have been appointed, including a commissioner of Aboriginal descent.”
McClellan’s fellow commissioners include Professor Helen Milroy, Australia’s first Aboriginal doctor and the current Winthrop Professor and director of the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia.
In addition to McClellan, there are two other commissioners with a legal background.
Justice Jennifer Coate, the current Victorian Coroner, was also the first female president of the Children’s Court of Victoria. Robert Fitzgerald, a commissioner with the Productivity Commission, was previously a lawyer with Clayton Utz and deputy ombudsman in NSW.
The other commissioners are Bob Atkinson, the former Queensland police commissioner, and Andrew Murray, the former Democrats federal senate member from Western Australia.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard flagged the establishment of the Royal Commission in November last year after the senior NSW Police detective Peter Fox alleged the Catholic Church covered up abuse by paedophile priests.
The Government has also announced that it will introduce legislation into Parliament to amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to allow evidence to be taken by a single or multiple commissioners rather than requiring all commissioners to be present.