Dispute ResolutionLaw

Appearing in Royal Commissions: What to do?

By 28 June, 2021 No Comments

Pragma has recently had central roles in both the City of Perth and Crown Casino Royal Commissions. Below is a high-level overview of matters to consider if you are summoned to give evidence in a Royal Commission.

What is a royal commission?

A Royal Commission is a forum for investigating issues of public concern in an open and inclusive manner. Royal Commissions are permitted under the Western Australian Royal Commission Act (‘Act’), and any other State or Territory legislation. The outcome of a Commission is to provide recommendations to the Government on ways to improve laws, policies, structures and practices in a defined area.

A Royal Commission is not a Court and does not exercise judicial power. It is a fact-finding body constituted by one or more individuals acting as Commissioner.  Pursuant to the Act, Commissioners are empowered to:

  • summon witnesses to appear before the Commission;
  • compel a witness to answer questions under oath or affirmation; and
  • summon a witness to produce comprehensive documentation.

Summons

Royal Commissions elicit evidence through issuing summons to individuals and entities. A summons is a legal document which requires the recipient to do certain things. Typically, a summons will require an individual to attend the Royal Commission to either give oral evidence or provide documents.

If you are served with a summons it is recommended that you immediately seek legal advice. When appearing at a Royal Commission, you must:

  • respond to questions honestly;
  • answer questions put to you; and
  • ensure you provide all documents requested.

What to do when served with a summons?

When served with a summons, you should:

  1. read it to understand your obligations and the timeframes for compliance;
  2. seek legal advice;
  3. with the assistance of a lawyer:
    1. commence collating documents for production (if required);
    2. consider any privilege claims or exceptions to production (as set out below); and or
    3. commence drafting a witness statement.
  4. consider any indemnities or insurance policies that may cover the costs of you complying with the summons;
  5. prepare for any hearing where you’re asked to give evidence, including, formal attire; and
  6. attend the Royal Commission and give truthful, forthright and honest answers to all questions asked of you.

There may be exceptions to the production of documents, including where they tend to:

  • incriminate or tend to incriminate a person in relation to an offence; or
  • put that person in breach of an obligation not to disclose information, or not to disclose the existence or contents of a particular documents.
  • If either of these situations arise, legal advice should be sought.

Interested parties

A Royal Commission may allow interested parties an opportunity to participate. This will often arise where the interests may be directly affected by the matters considered by the Royal Commission. If you have not yet received a summons but believe you are an interested party, you should seek legal advice.

Protecting rights and interests

It is important that you comply with any summons issued by a Royal Commission. Pursuant to the Act, failure to attend or submit required material, or the production of false or misleading material, without reasonable excuse, may be found in contempt of the Commission. Royal Commission’s receive extensive media coverage. Accordingly, non-compliance or tardiness with a summons may also result in you or your organisation being subject to public criticism.

Key takeaways

  • ensure you comply with the terms of a summons;
  • seek legal advice early to understand your rights and obligations; and
  • be truthful and forthright in all of your obligations with a Royal Commission.

If you have received a summons to attend a Royal Commission and would like legal advice, please contact our firm at (08) 6188 3340 or click here.