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Royal Commission

From Academic Kids

In countries that are members of the Commonwealth a Royal Commission is a major government inquiry into an issue. They have been held in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

A Royal Commissioner has considerable powers, generally greater even than those of a judge but restricted to the "Terms of Reference" of the Commission. The Commission is created by Cabinet on behalf of the Monarch and empowered by a Royal Warrant, issued in Letters Patent. While the presenting of the Warrant is often thought of as a formality, it does mean that in practice - unlike lesser forms of inquiry - once a Commission has started the government cannot stop it. Consequently governments are usually very careful about framing the Terms of Reference and generally include in them a date at which the Warrant becomes defunct.

Royal Commissions are called to look into matters of great importance and usually controversy. These can be matters such as government structure, the treatment of minorities, or economic questions. Some critics accuse Royal Commissions of being little more than a way to end public criticism of government inaction without actually doing anything. Many Royal Commissions last many years, and often a different government is left to respond to the findings. In Australia - and particularly New South Wales - many Royal Commissions have been investigations into police and government corruption and organised crime, using the very broad coercive powers of the Royal Commissioner to defeat the protective systems that powerful but corrupt public officials had used to shield themselves from conventional investigation.

Royal Commissions are usually chaired by one or more notable figures; because of their quasi-judicial powers, the Commissioners are often retired senior judges.

Royal Commissions usually involve research into an issue and consultations with experts both within and outside of government. Public consultations are often held as well. The Warrant may grant immense investigatory powers, including summoning witnesses under oath, offering of indemnities, seizing documents and other evidence (sometimes including those normally protected, such as classified information), holding hearings in camera if necessary, and - in a few cases - compelling all government officials to aid in the execution of the Commission.

The results of Royal Commissions are published in often massive reports of findings containing policy recommendations. (Due to the verbose nature of the titles of these formal documents, they are commonly known by the name of the principal Commissioner.) While these reports are often quite influential, with the government enacting some or all recommendations into law, the work of some Commissions have been almost completely ignored by the government.

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