What are Royal Commissions?

A Royal Commission is a formal independent public inquiry instigated by the Commonwealth Government or by a State Government. They can be inquisitorial or investigatory in nature. Commissioners are appointed to investigate allegations of impropriety or gross administrative incompetence or provide research, advice and policy options to government on major and complex issues. Royal Commissions are established under specific legislation that confers wide-ranging coercive powers of investigation.

Victorian Royal Commissions are established under letters patent issued by the Governor in accordance with the Inquiries Act 2014, appointing one or more persons to constitute a Royal Commission to inquire into and report on the terms of reference specified in the letters patent. Recent Victorian Government Royal Commissions include the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Royal Commissions may also be established and conducted jointly by the Commonwealth and one or more States, for example the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991). To establish a joint Royal Commission, letters patent are issued by the Governor–General. Each participating State and Territory also issues letters patent or instruments of appointment.

What happens to the records created and collected by Royal Commissions?

Governing Act: Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth)

Arrangements for records:

The Archives Act 1983 provides that records no longer required for the purposes of a Commission are deemed to be Commonwealth records and that the responsible Minister (the Prime Minister) directs the custodianship of the records.

The permanent value records are transferred to the custody of National Archives of Australia.

Governing Act: Inquiries Act 2014 (Vic).

Arrangements for records:

When a Victorian Royal Commission ceases to exist, responsibility for all of its records must be transferred to the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), unless the Premier, by instrument, determines that another public office will be responsible for the records. 

DPC (or other public office) must transfer records into the custody of Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) as soon as practicable.

PROV works directly with the Royal Commission and DPC to ensure records are captured, controlled and disposed of lawfully, with the permanent records (digital and physical) transferred to PROV custody.

PROV has issued an RDA that authorises disposal of records created and received by inquiry bodies (including Royal Commissions), see PROS 17/01 Royal Commissions, Boards of Inquiry and Formal Reviews RDA.

Governing Act: Issued with coercive powers under the Royal Commission Act 1902 (Cth) and legislation of the participating State/s.

Arrangements for records: 

The Archives Act 1983 (Cth) states that a custody agreement must be reached by the Commonwealth Government and the participating State and Territory Governments. 

If Victoria is involved, PROV works with the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the archival authority of each participating State and Territory to recommend an approach, with agreement then sought by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from each Premier / Territory Chief. Permanent records are usually transferred to the custody of NAA when the Royal Commission has concluded.

What do agencies need to do with records which have or could be required by Royal Commissions?

During a Royal Commission, any records which may be required must be identified, safeguarded and retained, even if they would normally be eligible for destruction under an authorised Retention and Disposal Authority (RDA).

Disposal of records created by an agency as a result of its participation in, and liaison with a Royal Commission is authorised by PROS 07/01 Common Administrative Functions RDA.

Records required as State Archives document an agency's contribution and involvement in a Royal Commission which is directly related to its functions. This includes agency statements and submissions, responses to final reports, and transcripts of oral evidence given by agency officers. See PROS 07/01 class 7.5.1 for further information.

 

Agencies should note the following disposal permissions for records that have been copied for the purposes of submission and any duplicates that are held as reference.

Original records held by an agency which have been copied and a copy submitted to a Royal Commission

For records which are copied and the copy submitted to a Royal Commission, the original records should be returned to their normal recordkeeping systems, for example back into case files.

Time expired original records can be disposed of in accordance with the relevant Retention and Disposal Authority (RDA) class, once the final report of the Royal Commission has been submitted.

Agencies should take a prudent approach to disposal. Time expired original records should not be destroyed where there is a reasonable likelihood that the records may be required for future investigations or legal proceedings. Agencies need to carefully consider this and take a conservative approach.

Duplicate copies made by an agency to facilitate the provision of documents to a Royal Commission

Some agencies copy the original records, submit a copy to the Royal Commission and then retain a duplicate copy as a record of what has been submitted for reference purposes.

Where records are copied and that duplicate copy is used as a facilitative point of reference by the agency, the duplicate copy can be destroyed when the final report is tabled.

See PROS 07/01 classes 7.5.2 and 7.5.5.