Royal Commission​

What is a Royal Commission?


Royal Commission Criminal Defence Lawyers, Peter O'Brien
Peter O’Brien at the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory

A Royal Commission is a special public investigation into a matter of great importance. Royal Commissions are created by the Governor-General at the request of the Government. They usually come about in response to complex and controversial matters, and operate in full view of the public eye.

However, it is crucial to find a lawyer who can help you to navigate the legal and other intricacies of appearing in front of a Royal Commission.

Royal Commissions are unique and different to the adversarial process of normal court proceedings. Key differences include:

  • A Royal Commission is set up by the Government. However, its appointed members are independent from the Government.
  • It has coercive powers that compel witnesses to give evidence. However, rules governing evidence differ to normal court proceedings.
  • Hearings take place in public therefore allowing individuals to present their testimonials before the Commission. However, sensitive evidence can be taken in private hearings and other orders can be made to de-identify witnesses.
  • Royal Commissions will make findings and also recommendations in a final report according to its terms of reference.
  • The Commission itself cannot prosecute individuals and its findings are non-binding. However, it can make recommendations to do so. Subsequently, these are usually acted upon by prosecution authorities.

Despite Commissions being different to normal adversarial court proceedings, it is very important to have representation in Commission hearings. The public nature of Commissions can place enormous pressure on witnesses. Consequently, representation ensures that witnesses understand their rights, responsibilities and prepare adequately to give evidence.


O’Brien Solicitors are specialist Royal Commission Lawyers

O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors represented witnesses in every Royal Commission over the past decade including:

Most recently, O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors was available to represent clients appearing at the Royal Commission Into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Peter O’Brien and other solicitors within the firm represented many dozens of witnesses in Royal Commissions. This representation includes the preparation of statements through to putting forward of testimonial accounts by clients, and cross-examining adverse witnesses. For example:

  • Peter O’Brien represented a number of witnesses who gave evidence about sexual abuse by clergy within the Catholic Church during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Mr O’Brien artfully cross-examined many key witnesses including Cardinal George Pell.
  • Similarly, Peter O’Brien represented key witnesses such as Dylan Voller throughout the hearings in the Northern Territory Royal Commission. This resulted in a series of findings condemning the abuse of children throughout the system in the Northern Territory, and vindicating his clients.

See some or our Royal Commission case studies here.

In many instances we may be able to apply for funding for your representation through the Attorney-General’s legal assistance unit.

Peter examined Cardinal Pell at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, March 3
Peter’s questioning of Cardinal Pell was remarkably direct and uncompromising. You can see some reporting of Peter’s cross examination of Pell here.


Call (02) 9261 4281 if you're in need of legal representation from a lawyer experienced in dealing with Royal Commissions or other Inquiries. Alternatively, you can leave us a message through our online contact form.

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O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors
p: 02 9261 4281
a: Level 4, 219-223 Castlereagh St,
Sydney NSW 2000

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