Royal Commissions & Inquiries

Royal Commissions & Inquiries

Royal Commissions & Inquiries

Commissions of Inquiry and Parliamentary Inquiries are increasingly being called by State and Federal Governments to expose incidents of historical and current wrongdoing and to set the framework for long term policy change. It is inevitable that any major incident, disaster or public outcry will result in a parliamentary or senate inquiry, an independent commission of inquiry, or in the most serious cases a Royal Commission.

Corporations, government departments and senior executives face difficult, business critical challenges when engaging with any commission of inquiry, and must effectively manage both the immediate issues of appearing in an inquiry and potential long term policy changes.

Corrs has acted in a wide range of State and Federal Government inquiries, investigations and Royal Commissions, and is frequently called upon by government departments and companies that expect to be the target of an inquiry.

Corrs’ strong industry perspective provides our clients with the insight to participate effectively in the inquiry process, in a manner that minimises the prospect of adverse findings and contributes to positive long term policy development.

Our Experience

2005 Queensland Public Hospitals Commission of Inquiry

This Commission of Inquiry investigated the circumstances regarding the appointment of, and the clinical care provided by Dr Jayant Patel at the Bundaberg Hospital following allegations of multiple patient deaths and poor patient outcomes.

Findings resulted in the referral of Dr Patel for criminal charges, a rare outcome of clinical care. In parallel to the Commission of Inquiry, the State established a claims resolution process for aggrieved patients seeking civil compensation.

Corrs assisted Queensland Health with the preparation of material to be provided to the Commission, as well as acting for Queensland Health in responding to 387 civil damages claims by former patients in relation to medical care provided.

More

2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was established following the bushfires which swept through parts of Victoria in late January and February 2009. The fires caused the deaths of 173 Victorians, destroyed more than 2,029 homes and 3,500 structures and damaged thousands more.

Corrs were appointed the Solicitors Instructing Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

The Royal Commission's terms of reference were very broad, including investigation of the causes of the fires; analysis of what happened leading up to, during and after the fires and recommendations as to what should be done to ensure such a disaster would not occur again.

Corrs’ role in advising the Royal Commission, the first of its kind in Victoria in 10 years, was extensive. Corrs assisted the Commission over 18 months and 155 days of hearings involving 434 witnesses and two panels of expert witnesses. Corrs worked closely with the three Commissioners and six Counsel Assisting to advise in respect of the Commission’s extensive powers. Corrs was integral to the gathering and analysis of documentary and witness evidence, and assisted in drafting submissions and recommendations.

More

2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry

The 2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry investigated the causes of and response to the floods that caused three-quarters of Queensland to be declared a disaster zone, resulting in the loss of dozens of lives and AUD1 billion in damages. Corrs had a dual appointment in respect of the Inquiry.

Corrs represented the ASX listed Suncorp Group in its submissions to and appearances before the Commission in relation to investigations regarding the performance of insurers in responding to the flood events. The Commission focussed on eight insurers including Suncorp. The Suncorp Group insures around 37 per cent of Queensland households and 17 per cent of Queensland businesses. It had the highest exposure to flood claims of any insurer. Corrs successfully protected Suncorp’s reputation in Queensland.

Corrs also successfully represented Mirvac, an ASX listed, leading integrated real estate group. Corrs advised Mirvac regarding land planning issues investigated by the Commission, prepared witness statements for submission to the Commission, successfully negotiated significant limitations on the production of documents and represented Mirvac at appearances before the Commission. The Commission made no adverse findings against Mirvac.

More

2011/2012 Commonwealth Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Immigration Detention

Corrs was retained by Serco, the operator of Australia’s immigration detention centres, in relation to the Commonwealth parliament’s Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Immigration Detention which was heard in late 2011 and early 2012.

Our team assisted Serco by preparing a lengthy written submission, working closely with Serco’s CEO and senior executive team who appeared as witnesses at inquiry hearings (held at Canberra and 10 detention centres across the country). We also advised Serco on the production of sensitive commercial and operational information to the inquiry and coordinated the preparation of responses to ongoing “questions on notice” from the inquiry.

The findings of the JSC report (published March 2012) aligned with Serco’s objectives. The Corrs team was praised by Serco’s CEO and its senior executive team for the excellent support given at the inquiry hearings and Corrs’ willingness to join Serco staff “in the trenches” when required.

More

2012-2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the abuse of children in religious and other institutions

Corrs was retained to advise and act for the Catholic Church in Victoria in connection with the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into the abuse of children in religious and other institutions in Victoria.

The Corrs team provided wide ranging assistance including in connection with the preparation of written submissions, the appearance of witnesses at inquiry hearings and the provision of documents and information to the inquiry.

Corrs also provided advice to key witnesses including Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Hart and Independent Commissioner Peter O’Callaghan QC.

More

2013 Queensland Health Payroll Commission of Inquiry

Corrs was retained to act for the Director General of the Queensland Department of Health, in the Queensland Health Payroll Commission of Inquiry.

The Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the implementation of a new payroll system for Queensland Health which suffered from significant technical errors resulting in large numbers of staff being not paid, underpaid or overpaid, and included critical scrutiny of both corporate and individual responsibility for the retention of the system provider, scoping of the project, oversight, delays in implementation and the decision to ‘go live’ were investigated.

More

2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence

A team of Corrs lawyers served as the legal advisors to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, chaired by former Court of Appeal Justice Marcia Neave AO and with Patricia Faulkner AO and Tony Nicholson serving as Deputy Commissioners.

The Royal Commission was established to inquire into and report on how Victoria’s response to family violence can be improved by providing practical recommendations to stop such violence. The Royal Commission investigated how to prevent family violence, intervene early to stop it escalating, support all victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

The Corrs team, together with Counsel Assisting Mark Moshinsky QC (now Justice Moshinsky of the Federal Court of Australia), Rachel Ellyard and Joanna Davidson, developed and delivered five weeks of public hearings across a diverse range of modules, involving 220 witnesses and over 180 witness statements.  The Corrs team also reviewed nearly 1,000 written submissions, wrote or co-wrote report chapters and legally reviewed the final report. 

The scope of the areas covered in the public hearings and final report was vast, including the impact of family violence on children, older people and other diverse communities, risk assessment, information sharing, the criminal justice system, the health system, child protection and family law, housing and homelessness, alcohol and drug misuse, mental health, prevention and governance.

More

Construction industry Royal Commission experience

Corrs has extensive experience advising and appearing for the construction industry in Royal Commissions, including acting in the Cole and Gyles Royal Commissions for entities including the NSW Department of Public Works and Services (now Department of Commerce), Barclay Mowlem, Tyco, John Holland Construction Walter Construction Group and Leightons Holdings.

Corrs also represented Mirvac in the 2011 Queensland Floods Royal Commission.

More

Our Thinking

Key trends and lessons from Australian Royal Commissions and inquiries

With numerous high-profile Royal Commissions and inquiries taking place over the last five years, it seems timely to ask: what can we learn from their history and practice in Australia?

More

Anti-Bribery and Corruption: The Rolls Royce standard and the year ahead

The recent Rolls Royce case underlines the importance of reviewing your organisation’s present checks and balances.

More

Insider Trading: What can we learn from Australia's first corporate penalty?

Key lessons following the first civil penalty for a corporation’s insider trading.

More

Opportunities hiding amongst the issues in youth detention

How can service delivery in youth detention be improved to achieve better outcomes including reduced recidivism?

More

What could the new Whistleblower regime look like and how will it affect your organisation?

How will changes to the whistleblower regime affect your day-to-day business operations, risk management and compliance procedures?

More

A fish rots (only) from the head?

The well-known maxim that a fish rots from the head down gives the clear message that when an organisation has failings, its leaders are to blame. Regulators are making a concerted push for greater enforcement powers- focussing on failures in corpora

More

Bargaining and Industrial Action: “Do we really have to sit down with them? And when can we all cool off?”

Two recent decisions highlight that negotiating parties can hold meetings by teleconference or video; and strong evidence will be required for an employer’s application to end protected industrial action to allow a “cooling off” period.

More

Reports of the Productivity Commission and Trade Unions Royal Commission will set the Workplace Reform Agenda in 2016

The pre-election debate over workplace reform will be dominated by the Government’s response to reports from the Productivity Commission and the TURC. We take a look at the major issues in the year ahead.

More

Employers Beware: Sexual Harassment Damages Exceed $330,000 in Recent VCAT Ruling

The decision in Collins v Smith (Human Rights) [2015] VCAT 1992, in which a complainant received over $330,000 in damages for sexual harassment, reminds employers of the need to take proactive steps to ensure a bullying/harassment-free workplace.

More

The pros and cons of making a submission to a parliamentary inquiry

Weighing up the benefits against the time and cost.

More

Victorian Inquiries Bill is a signal to business: Be ready to respond

Governments are increasingly using public inquiries to respond to difficult issues, and this has implications for private business and not-for-profits.

More

Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption

On 10 February 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

More

High Court limits ICAC’s role: What are the consequences?

The High Court’s decision in ICAC v Cunneen places significant restraints on ICAC’s investigative powers and, given ICAC’s high profile in recent times, is likely to be a catalyst for a broader discussion around law reform in this area.

The High Court’s decision in Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) v Cunneen [2015] HCA 14 limits ICAC’s power to investigate corruption involving the actions of members of the public to circumstances in which those actions impact on the probity of the exercise of the official function of public servants.

This decision will impact on the scope of both current and future inquiries by ICAC, may result in some previous findings being overturned and is likely to be the catalyst for a discussion around law reform.

Background

In late 2014, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) served a summons on Margaret Cunneen SC (the Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor of the State of NSW) requiring her to appear at a public inquiry. The summons alleged that Ms Cunneen, with the intention to pervert the course of justice, counselled Sophia Tilley (who was at the time the girlfriend of Ms Cunneen’s son) to feign chest pains to avoid a blood alcohol test following a car accident.

Under section 13 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (NSW) (the ICAC Act), ICAC would have the power to conduct such an investigation provided the allegation involved “corrupt conduct”.

Broadly speaking, under the ICAC Act “corrupt conduct” is defined to include:

  1. certain specified improper conduct on the part of a public official; or
  2. conduct of any person, whether or not they are a public official, where that conduct “adversely affects” the exercise of an official function.

Ms Cunneen brought an application in the Supreme Court of NSW challenging ICAC’s power to conduct the investigation on the basis that the allegation did not involve “corrupt conduct”.

In this case, there was no allegation that a public official (the police officer) had acted in a manner that lacked probity and Ms Cunneen’s conduct was not being investigated for the effect it might have on her official function as a Crown Prosecutor. Rather, the case concerned whether, as a member of the public, Ms Cunneen’s alleged conduct in diverting the investigating police officers from the performance of an investigation, or in deflecting the course of curial proceedings, amounted to corruption anyway.

At first instance, Hoeben J held that the alleged conduct was corrupt conduct within the meaning of s.8 of the ICAC Act and so dismissed the application. On appeal, the majority (Basten and Ward JJA) held that the alleged conduct was not corrupt conduct within the meaning of s.8 and therefore allowed the appeal.

Reasoning

In a decision handed down on 15 April 2015, the High Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal on the basis of first principles of statutory interpretation, effectively clipping the wings of ICAC.

The outcome of the High Court’s decision rested on whether, in order to fall within the definition of “corrupt conduct”, it was necessary to prove that the acts of third parties:

  1. needed to meet a lower threshold, and impacted on the efficacy of the exercise of an official function by a public official; or
  2. needed to meet a higher threshold, and impacted on the probity of the exercise of an official function by a public official.

The High Court held that “corrupt conduct”, under section 8(2) of the ICAC Act will be limited to circumstances where the probity of the exercise of an official function by a public servant is impacted. This may include, for example, where there is:

  1. a dishonest or partial exercise of an official power;
  2. a breach of public trust; or
  3. a misuse of information or material acquired in the course of a public official’s official functions.

In this case, given the exercise of the functions of the police officer could not be impugned on the basis of a lack of probity, the majority held that the circumstances did not disclose “corrupt conduct”.

Consequences of the decision

The relevance for corporations, particularly those who contract with or rely on Government licenses, is to remove any doubt that an action by a private party that merely affects the efficacy of the performance of a Government function, is not corruption for the purposes of the ICAC Act.

This decision will result in a change to the way ICAC conducts future inquiries, what inquiries it can commence, and legal action taken by targets of some of its previous findings. For instance, it has been foreshadowed that findings made against Ian Macdonald, Eddie Obeid and various others may be challenged on the basis that it was not open to ICAC to make a finding of “corrupt conduct” in respect of the circumstances surrounding the award of the Mount Penny mining tenement and the grant of an exploration licence.

Further, the decision is likely to result in a restriction of the findings that can be made in a number of current inquiries – ICAC’s written submissions to the High Court foreshadowed potential issues with:

  1. Operation Credo, being the inquiry into the actions of the Obeid linked Australian Water Holdings in submitting bills to Sydney Water for a range of lavish expenses including limousines, dinners and interstate trips;
  2. Operation Spicer, being the inquiry in relation to large donations made to the NSW Liberal Party; and
  3. three other investigations which are not yet the subject of public inquiries.

Given the public interest in the findings of recent ICAC investigations and the popularity of ICAC, it is likely that this decision will form the basis of a discussion around reform. ICAC has recommended retrospective legislation that would effectively reverse the impact of the decision. While opposition leader Luke Foley has come out in support of reform, Premier Baird has suggested that the full ramifications of the decision need to be understood before legislative reform can be considered.

The facts alleged against Ms Cunneen demonstrated a clear issue of over-reach by ICAC and the High Court has found that it is not the role of ICAC to investigate every alleged criminal activity that might affect the Government or its agencies. However, if the consequence of the decision is to prevent ICAC from investigating serious matters, where the community expectation is that ICAC should be involved (such as the Obied related Mt Penny Mining and Australian Water Holdings allegations mentioned above), the NSW Government will need to consider amending the ICAC Act.

In particular we expect the NSW Government will give consideration to whether ICAC should have power to investigate corrupt conduct by private parties that leads to honest officials making incorrect decisions involving the allocation of government monies or licenses to the benefit of those private parties or their associates.

Read More

Trade unions Royal Commission commences in Sydney

A preliminary hearing of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption was held on 9 April 2014.

The terms of reference issued by the Governor General were formally read, and Mr Stoljar noted that the Governor of Queensland had issued letters patent to the Commission with identical terms of reference to those issued by the Governor General, on 24 March 2014.

In addressing the Terms of Reference, the Commissioner acknowledged that although expressed broadly, they rest on assumptions that are not hostile to trade unions. Specifically, the inquiries the Commission will make are not premised on the basis that trade unions ought to be abolished or their roles curtailed or diminished. To this end the Commission recognises the role of trade unions in protecting and advancing the interests of members. Consequently, the Commission considers it worth inquiring into whether the roles of trade unions are performed lawfully and/or whether the roles can be performed better or more lawfully.

Focus of the inquiry

Mr Stoljar SC stated that inquiry will focus on determining allegations that trade unions establish and operate slush funds. The enormity of this inquiry was acknowledged, given the legal structure of slush funds could be infinitely various including taking the form of an organisation, an unincorporated association or simply a bank account.

Where these allegations prove correct, the Commission will further inquire into the transparency of slush funds, including where the funds are originating from, what the funds are being used for and whether there is any wrongdoing in operating such funds. Mr Stoljar SC noted an examination of slush funds in this regard would necessarily involve extensive accounting analysis of trade unions, slush funds and any entities that pay money into the funds.

It was recognised that the results of the inquiry may reveal divergences in the practices of trade unions. To understand why these differences exist, the Commission will also receive evidence on structures, rules or understandings that are in place to prevent improper or unlawful conduct.

The Commission will also consider whether the legal framework that applies to union officials is appropriate, having regard to comparable legal obligations applying to officers in corporate and other roles.

Offences relating to evidence and documentation

The Commissioner outlined the laws against obstructing the inquiry, in particular that witnesses are not to testify falsely, be prevented from testifying, be bribed or injured and that documents are not to be tampered with or destroyed. Relevantly, the Commissioner also noted that it is an offence for an employer to disadvantage or dismiss an employee who gives evidence as part of the inquiry. Significant penalties will be imposed on persons or entities associated with such conduct and depending on the conduct the Commissioner noted penalties up to a $20,000 fine and 5 years prison apply. The Commissioner also noted the power to draw inferences against persons and entities involved in such conduct.

Future matters

Mr Stoljar SC noted that a number of summonses to produce documents have already been issued and the recipients are in contact with the Royal Commission in relation to the scope and production of documents.

With a reporting date of 31 December 2014, the Commission informed that deadlines for complying with summonses will be treated strictly.

Further information including hearing dates will be published on the Commission’s website.

Brief thoughts:

Organisations that expect to have an involvement in the Commission should give consideration to the following matters:

  • the Commission’s investigations will involve detailed accounting analysis of slush funds and entities that paid money to slush funds. We would expect the Commission’s lawyers to review union slush fund transactions, and then issue summonses to any organisations that have paid money (directly or indirectly) to union slush funds. It is a priority for organisations to understand the extent of any exposure and how that is reflected in the organisation’s financial and other records. The corporate governance aspects of any illegal payments will be serious. Expert forensic assistance may be necessary, and boards should consider independent legal and accounting assistance.
  • organisations will need to have a plan in place in relation to employee disclosures to both the organisation and to the Commission regarding issues that the Commission is inquiring into.
  • the task of responding to summonses from the Royal Commission on short notice may be difficult, particularly if the relevant matters occurred some years ago. Steps should be taken to understand how and where relevant information will be stored (both electronically and in hard copy) within the organisation. It will also be crucial to put in place measures that prevent relevant information from unauthorised access, and from deletion or tampering. The Commissioner explicitly noted the penalties that apply under the Royal Commissions Act, and the destruction of evidence may also be an offence under other Federal and State laws. 

MORE INFORMATION

For information regarding possible implications for your business, please contact: Ben Davidson, John Tuck, James Whittaker, Frank Lawson, Robert Regan, Chris Ryder, Rod Dann, Simon Billing, Andrew Stephenson or Michael do Rozario.

Read More

Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption

On 10 February 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

THE TERMS OF REFERENCE

The Terms of Reference of the inquiry are expressed very broadly, suggesting a wide range of unions, organisations, individuals and employers across a range of industries may be called upon to assist. There will be a particular focus on the practices in the construction industry.

The Terms of Reference focus on a number of key areas for investigation, including:

  • Whether any bribes, secret commissions or other unlawful payments or benefits arising from contracts, arrangements or understandings between a union and any other party;
  • The establishment by trade unions of separate entities purportedly for an industrial purpose or for the welfare of their members;
  • The corporate governance of such entities established by unions, including their financial management;
  • The fund-raising activities of these separate entities established by trade unions;
  • Whether these entities conform to their objectives and the extent to which union members receive a benefit from or have control of these entities;
  • Any issue or matter reasonably incidental to these matters.

In particular, the Royal Commission is asked to inquire into the activities of the AWU, CFMEU, TWU, HSU and TWU. We anticipate that the Royal Commission will inquire into donations or payments made to related entities of unions.  It is  also likely, in regards to the construction industry, that the Royal Commission will inquire into the employment of union nominated labour and the making of enterprise agreements, in particular greenfields agreements.

The powers of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission will have significant powers that are more extensive than those available to a court. The Commissioner, recommended to be the Honourable John Dyson Heydon AC QC (a former High Court Judge), will be able to inquire in any manner he sees fit.

The Royal Commission will have strong powers to compel the production of evidence, including the power to:

  • summon a person to appear at a hearing, either to give evidence or produce documents, or other things specified in the summons;[1] and
  • require a person, by written notice, to produce a document or thing at a specified time and place.[2]

The primary limitation to the Commission’s information gathering powers is that it is restricted to its "Terms of Reference".  In this respect, it is not uncommon for a summons or notice to require production of “all documents that relate to each of the Terms of Reference”.  Such wide drafting has the potential to capture an extensive number of documents, particularly as the Terms of Reference themselves are drafted broadly. 

From our experience with Royal Commissions we expect a number of employers to be called, not only to produce significant volumes of documents, but also for individuals to give evidence.

“Documents” include emails, correspondence, reports, file notes, accounting records, diaries, photographs and company minute books.  Therefore, a number of employers and industry participants can expect to have very significant volumes of material and data that will need to be preserved and may need to be collated, reviewed and/or made available to the Royal Commission. 

With a reporting date likely to be set for the end of the year, the Commission will be operating under tight timeframes.  Accordingly, people and entities required to produce documents will likely have little time to comply with potentially extensive requirements.  This calls for early and proactive document management

Failure to produce documents to a Royal Commission is an offence punishable by a fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for six months,[3] unless the person has a “reasonable excuse”.[4]  A “reasonable excuse” is defined as “an excuse which would excuse an act or omission of a similar nature by a person served with a subpoena in connection with a proceeding before a court of law”.[5]  The onus is on a defendant to prove they had an adequate excuse to refuse to produce documents.[6] These are extensive coercive powers.

With all of the above matters in mind, production of material has the potential to be an extreme burden on an organisation.  This mandates early and clear thinking regarding the management of these issues.

Application of Legal Professional Privilege

Unlike many state Royal Commissions, a Royal Commission conducted under the federal legislation[7] allows some protection of legally privileged communications and documents.  However, any claim for legal professional privilege must either be made to the Royal Commission in the timeframe allowed for production, or otherwise, with an order from a court that the communication or document is privileged.[8]

Accordingly, it is imperative that any document subject to legal professional privilege is identified prior to the lapsing of the timeframe for production.  Given the possible scope of documents captured by a summons or notice, a person or entity subject to a production summons must act early to identify those documents they believe may be subject to privilege.

Importantly, if a claim for legal professional privilege is made, the Royal Commission is entitled to inspect the document and decide whether to accept or reject the claim.[9]

Confidentiality

The Royal Commission will likely issue a Practice Guideline explaining its procedures for handling evidence gathered by it.  However, a Royal Commission often collates documents into a large database, substantial sections of which are usually made available to parties given leave to appear.  Documents tendered during hearings are also often made available to the public at large.

It is possible to request that documents, or parts of documents, be provided to the Royal Commission on a ‘confidential basis’.  Accordingly, as with privilege, it is important for organisations to turn their minds to what sort of information and documents they consider to be confidential.

Costs of compliance

Although the legislation provides that a witness who appears before a Commission in answer to a summons may be paid expenses,[10] it is silent as to the whether any assistance is to be provided for the expense of producing documents pursuant to a summons or notice.

Guided by the operation of past Royal Commissions, it is expected that financial assistance will not be provided to those who are required to produce documents. 

This is important because the costs of complying with a summons or notice to produce can be substantial.  Retrieving and collating relevant documents is time consuming, as is the legal process of reviewing documents for issues such as relevance and privilege. 

Completing these tasks in restricted time frames can also increase costs.  Further, depending on the procedure adopted by the Commission, processing documents into the required format can be a costly and time consuming exercise in itself.  All of these costs will fall directly upon the entity.

How can Corrs Chambers Westgarth help?

Preparation is key

Corrs Chambers Westgarth have extensive Royal Commission experience having acted for many clients in Royal Commissions as well as having also acted in the role of solicitors assisting the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission in 2009.

Based upon our experience we recommend those employers or entities who may be asked to assist this Royal Commission take steps now to better enable them to manage the process.

For example, while substantial preparation should await the issuing of summons or notices to produce documents, it is worth giving early consideration to the practical processes involved in complying with a potential request. This will help manage the stress and costs of complying if you are the target of a summons or notice to produce documents.

Corrs can assist in providing advice on requests received from the Royal Commission, assisting in the preparation of evidence, representation at hearings and making submissions.


More information

For information regarding possible implications for your business, please contact: John Tuck, James Whittaker, Ben Davidson, Frank Lawson, Rod Dann, Robert Regan, Chris Ryder, Simon Billing or Andrew Stephenson.


  [1]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 2(1).

  [2]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 2(3A).

  [3]Royal Commission Act 1902 (Cth) s 3(4).

  [4]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 3(5).

  [5]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 1B.

  [6] See note below Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 3(6).

  [7]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth).

  [8]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 6AA.

  [9]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 6AA(3).

  [10]Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) s 6G; Royal Commissions Regulations 2001 (Cth) r 7.

 

Read More

Our Experience

2005 Queensland Public Hospitals Commission of Inquiry

This Commission of Inquiry investigated the circumstances regarding the appointment of, and the clinical care provided by Dr Jayant Patel at the Bundaberg Hospital following allegations of multiple patient deaths and poor patient outcomes.

Findings resulted in the referral of Dr Patel for criminal charges, a rare outcome of clinical care. In parallel to the Commission of Inquiry, the State established a claims resolution process for aggrieved patients seeking civil compensation.

Corrs assisted Queensland Health with the preparation of material to be provided to the Commission, as well as acting for Queensland Health in responding to 387 civil damages claims by former patients in relation to medical care provided.

2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was established following the bushfires which swept through parts of Victoria in late January and February 2009. The fires caused the deaths of 173 Victorians, destroyed more than 2,029 homes and 3,500 structures and damaged thousands more.

Corrs were appointed the Solicitors Instructing Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

The Royal Commission's terms of reference were very broad, including investigation of the causes of the fires; analysis of what happened leading up to, during and after the fires and recommendations as to what should be done to ensure such a disaster would not occur again.

Corrs’ role in advising the Royal Commission, the first of its kind in Victoria in 10 years, was extensive. Corrs assisted the Commission over 18 months and 155 days of hearings involving 434 witnesses and two panels of expert witnesses. Corrs worked closely with the three Commissioners and six Counsel Assisting to advise in respect of the Commission’s extensive powers. Corrs was integral to the gathering and analysis of documentary and witness evidence, and assisted in drafting submissions and recommendations.

2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry

The 2011 Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry investigated the causes of and response to the floods that caused three-quarters of Queensland to be declared a disaster zone, resulting in the loss of dozens of lives and AUD1 billion in damages. Corrs had a dual appointment in respect of the Inquiry.

Corrs represented the ASX listed Suncorp Group in its submissions to and appearances before the Commission in relation to investigations regarding the performance of insurers in responding to the flood events. The Commission focussed on eight insurers including Suncorp. The Suncorp Group insures around 37 per cent of Queensland households and 17 per cent of Queensland businesses. It had the highest exposure to flood claims of any insurer. Corrs successfully protected Suncorp’s reputation in Queensland.

Corrs also successfully represented Mirvac, an ASX listed, leading integrated real estate group. Corrs advised Mirvac regarding land planning issues investigated by the Commission, prepared witness statements for submission to the Commission, successfully negotiated significant limitations on the production of documents and represented Mirvac at appearances before the Commission. The Commission made no adverse findings against Mirvac.

2011/2012 Commonwealth Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Immigration Detention

Corrs was retained by Serco, the operator of Australia’s immigration detention centres, in relation to the Commonwealth parliament’s Joint Select Committee Inquiry into Immigration Detention which was heard in late 2011 and early 2012.

Our team assisted Serco by preparing a lengthy written submission, working closely with Serco’s CEO and senior executive team who appeared as witnesses at inquiry hearings (held at Canberra and 10 detention centres across the country). We also advised Serco on the production of sensitive commercial and operational information to the inquiry and coordinated the preparation of responses to ongoing “questions on notice” from the inquiry.

The findings of the JSC report (published March 2012) aligned with Serco’s objectives. The Corrs team was praised by Serco’s CEO and its senior executive team for the excellent support given at the inquiry hearings and Corrs’ willingness to join Serco staff “in the trenches” when required.

2012-2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the abuse of children in religious and other institutions

Corrs was retained to advise and act for the Catholic Church in Victoria in connection with the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into the abuse of children in religious and other institutions in Victoria.

The Corrs team provided wide ranging assistance including in connection with the preparation of written submissions, the appearance of witnesses at inquiry hearings and the provision of documents and information to the inquiry.

Corrs also provided advice to key witnesses including Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Hart and Independent Commissioner Peter O’Callaghan QC.

2013 Queensland Health Payroll Commission of Inquiry

Corrs was retained to act for the Director General of the Queensland Department of Health, in the Queensland Health Payroll Commission of Inquiry.

The Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the implementation of a new payroll system for Queensland Health which suffered from significant technical errors resulting in large numbers of staff being not paid, underpaid or overpaid, and included critical scrutiny of both corporate and individual responsibility for the retention of the system provider, scoping of the project, oversight, delays in implementation and the decision to ‘go live’ were investigated.

2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence

A team of Corrs lawyers served as the legal advisors to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, chaired by former Court of Appeal Justice Marcia Neave AO and with Patricia Faulkner AO and Tony Nicholson serving as Deputy Commissioners.

The Royal Commission was established to inquire into and report on how Victoria’s response to family violence can be improved by providing practical recommendations to stop such violence. The Royal Commission investigated how to prevent family violence, intervene early to stop it escalating, support all victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

The Corrs team, together with Counsel Assisting Mark Moshinsky QC (now Justice Moshinsky of the Federal Court of Australia), Rachel Ellyard and Joanna Davidson, developed and delivered five weeks of public hearings across a diverse range of modules, involving 220 witnesses and over 180 witness statements.  The Corrs team also reviewed nearly 1,000 written submissions, wrote or co-wrote report chapters and legally reviewed the final report. 

The scope of the areas covered in the public hearings and final report was vast, including the impact of family violence on children, older people and other diverse communities, risk assessment, information sharing, the criminal justice system, the health system, child protection and family law, housing and homelessness, alcohol and drug misuse, mental health, prevention and governance.

Construction industry Royal Commission experience

Corrs has extensive experience advising and appearing for the construction industry in Royal Commissions, including acting in the Cole and Gyles Royal Commissions for entities including the NSW Department of Public Works and Services (now Department of Commerce), Barclay Mowlem, Tyco, John Holland Construction Walter Construction Group and Leightons Holdings.

Corrs also represented Mirvac in the 2011 Queensland Floods Royal Commission.

Our Thinking

Key trends and lessons from Australian Royal Commissions and inquiries

With numerous high-profile Royal Commissions and inquiries taking place over the last five years, it seems timely to ask: what can we learn from their history and practice in Australia?

Anti-Bribery and Corruption: The Rolls Royce standard and the year ahead

The recent Rolls Royce case underlines the importance of reviewing your organisation’s present checks and balances.

Insider Trading: What can we learn from Australia's first corporate penalty?

Key lessons following the first civil penalty for a corporation’s insider trading.

Opportunities hiding amongst the issues in youth detention

How can service delivery in youth detention be improved to achieve better outcomes including reduced recidivism?

What could the new Whistleblower regime look like and how will it affect your organisation?

How will changes to the whistleblower regime affect your day-to-day business operations, risk management and compliance procedures?

A fish rots (only) from the head?

The well-known maxim that a fish rots from the head down gives the clear message that when an organisation has failings, its leaders are to blame. Regulators are making a concerted push for greater enforcement powers- focussing on failures in corpora

Bargaining and Industrial Action: “Do we really have to sit down with them? And when can we all cool off?”

Two recent decisions highlight that negotiating parties can hold meetings by teleconference or video; and strong evidence will be required for an employer’s application to end protected industrial action to allow a “cooling off” period.

Reports of the Productivity Commission and Trade Unions Royal Commission will set the Workplace Reform Agenda in 2016

The pre-election debate over workplace reform will be dominated by the Government’s response to reports from the Productivity Commission and the TURC. We take a look at the major issues in the year ahead.

Employers Beware: Sexual Harassment Damages Exceed $330,000 in Recent VCAT Ruling

The decision in Collins v Smith (Human Rights) [2015] VCAT 1992, in which a complainant received over $330,000 in damages for sexual harassment, reminds employers of the need to take proactive steps to ensure a bullying/harassment-free workplace.

The pros and cons of making a submission to a parliamentary inquiry

Weighing up the benefits against the time and cost.

Victorian Inquiries Bill is a signal to business: Be ready to respond

Governments are increasingly using public inquiries to respond to difficult issues, and this has implications for private business and not-for-profits.

Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption

On 10 February 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.