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Thematic Issue: Abuse of Power / General

From Fact Finding to Truth-Telling: An Analysis of the Changing Functions of Commonwealth Royal Commissions


Jonathan Tjandra

Royal commissions are a tool for the executive government to inquire into matters of public importance. A new type of royal commission has emerged at the federal level as a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – the truth-telling inquiry. Several more royal commissions have been established with an explicit truth-telling function. Recent legislative changes to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) allowed for private sessions, cementing a truth-telling function in the legislative framework. The function of a truth-telling royal commission is to aid people who have suffered damage or injury in a process of reconciliation or restorative justice. In this article, I analyse the historical development of the powers and functions of Commonwealth royal commissions in statute and at common law in light of a truth-telling function. If this trend continues, truth-telling royal commissions may develop into an important symbol of reconciliation and justice.

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(2022) 45(1) UNSWLJ 341: