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Royal commissions and other forms of public inquiries are used by all governments. Inquiries such as the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse are a frequent response by government to a major issue or event. Most Australian governments also have standing bodies with inquisitorial powers. The Federal Government has a variety of standing commissions, such as the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Nearly every state now has a corruption commission, and several have crime commissions and police integrity bodies, all with coercive investigative powers. Coronial inquests occur in every state and territory. Lawyers advising clients affected by these inquiries require a detailed knowledge of their procedural rules, administrative and constitutional law, procedural fairness, common law privileges and other rights.
This subject is designed to equip students to deal with such inquiries at any level, whether in government departments, the private bars, working as solicitors or in corporate law offices, or as legal advisers to corporations.
Principal topics include:
- Introduction to public inquiries
- Appointment and composition
- Supply of information
- Power to compel
- Limits on the power to compel, including public interest immunity, privilege against self-incrimination and privileges of parliament
- Application of administrative law, including procedural fairness and judicial review
- The role of counsel assisting
- Legal representation and assistance
- Reopening of completed inquiries
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a grasp of the laws that govern the establishment and conduct of all forms of public inquiries, in particular royal commissions
- Understand the role played by the main forms of public inquiries in the Australian system of government and administration
- Understand the difference between the adversarial and inquisitorial methods of inquiry
- Understand the relevance of administrative and constitutional law in relation to the conduct of public inquiries, including the advantages and disadvantages of judicial review in safeguarding the rights of individuals
- Understand the case for reform of the law governing public inquiries
- Be aware of, and able to assess, the relevance of the experience of the law of public inquiries in other comparable countries.
Last updated: 6 December 2019