What is a Royal Commission?
A Royal Commission is the most serious response to an issue available to the New Zealand Government. It investigates matters of great importance and difficulty.
A Royal Commission is engaged in fact-finding and preventing future recurrences. It investigates why the situation came about and then recommends policy or legislative changes to prevent it happening again.
The Government establishes terms of reference, which set out what subjects are to be investigated. However a Royal Commission is independent from the Government and reports to the Governor-General. The way the inquiry is conducted and the Commission is run is decided by the Chair and Commissioners. The Government cannot interfere in the direction taken by an inquiry or influence the findings.
A Royal Commission can inquire into any matters it sees fit in order to determine the cause of the issues. Chaired by a High Court judge who is appointed by the Governor-General, it has the powers of compulsion in regard to witnesses, documentation and awarding costs. This enables the Royal Commission to uncover information which might otherwise be difficult to obtain.
Evidence is gathered from a range of different places and sources, including from participants and through the Commission's own investigations. Public hearings are one important part of the inquiry process. They provide an opportunity to clarify matters, test disputed material and ensure that key evidence is discussed in public.
A Royal Commission is not able to determine legal rights and liabilities. Findings and recommendations are not binding upon any party, including the Government.
For more information see: www.royalcommission.govt.nz