Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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.
Famous Royal Commissions
- Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991) investigated allegations of murder of Australian Aboriginals in prison.
- Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service ("Wood Royal Commission") (1994-1997) investigated Police corruption in New South Wales.
- Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry ("Cole Royal Commission") (2001 - 2003) investigated the conduct of industrial relations within the building industry.
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking , ("Stewart Royal Commission"), (1980-1983)
- Royal Commission on the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union , ("Costigan Royal Commission"), investigated organised crime influences and drug trafficking in a large trade union.
- Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking ("Woodward Royal Commission"), (1977-1980) investigated drug trafficking in New South Wales, especially links between the Mafia and New South Wales Police and the disappearance of investigative journalist Donald Mackay
- Royal Commission of Inquiry in respect of certain matters relating to allegations of organised crime in clubs ("Moffitt Royal Commission") (1973-74) investigated organised crime in New South Wales.
- Royal Commission on Price Spreads
- Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations ("The Rowell-Sirois Commission") (1937-1940)
- The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences ("The Massey-Lévesque Commission") (1949-1951) - looked into Canada's cultural identity and its cultural sovereignty from the United States.
- Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism ("The Laurendeau-Dunton Commission") (1963-1967) - looked into the status of Canada's francophone minority.
- Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects ("The Gordon Commission") (1955-1958)
- Royal Commission on Health Services ("The Hall Report") (1961-1964) - recommended universal health care for all Canadians.
- Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1967-1970)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs ("The Le Dain Comission") (1969-1973) - recommended the deciminalization of cannabis.
- Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada ("The MacDonald Commission") (1982-1985) - looked into Canada's economy and recommended free trade with the United States.
- Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1991-1996)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada ("The Krever Commission") (1995-1997) - investigated blood bank and screening protocol after citizens contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from blood transfusions. Recommended the creation of Canadian Blood Services .
- Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada ("The Romanow Report") (2000-2002) - investigated the sustainability of universal health care in Canada.
- Clarendon Commission (1861-1864) looked into public education
- Royal Commission on the Health of the Army (1856-1857) based on Florence Nightingale's reports on medical care during the Crimean War
- Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom (1859)
- Redcliffe-Maud Commission (1966-9) on local government
- Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (2000-2001) to look into and report on the issues surrounding genetic modification in New Zealand
- Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1984-1986) investigated the electoral system
- The Mahon Inquiry (1980-1981) looked at the crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901
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