By whatever nomenclature it is commonly known, royal commission, commission of inquiry, public inquiry or tribunal of inquiry, this type of body is frequently utilised in societies based upon the Westminster system of government. Commissions are appointed to assist government in governing, to determine the facts of a particular situation or inform and advise government or parliament upon the formulation of policy. To facilitate these roles, commissions are often endowed with extensive coercive powers and fundamental rights are abrogated. The aim of this thesis is to determine whether the common law, the relevant legislative provisions and the practices adopted by commissions provide a sufficient balance between the interests of state and person. Arguably the present legislative schemes endorse interference with basic rights of the individual which are highly valued in a democratic society based upon the common law system of justice—for example the right to liberty, the right to the due administration of justice and the right to privacy. Upon several occasions law reform bodies have conducted extensive reviews of the roles of commissions advocating greater rights to the individual. Interestingly though, other than in Tasmania, these recommendations have not been embraced by government other than to increase the power of the royal commission. If governmental control of the individual is to be increased then it is necessary that it be appropriately controlled.
The review which has been undertaken in this thesis incorporates a number of recommendations to amend the current inquiry acts to ensure an effective balance between the role of commissions in the common law system and the rights of individual.