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What Happens in a Commission Hearing?

Each commission is different and what happens in a commission hearing may differ from one commission to another. Hearings are typically conducted after significant investigation has been carried out. Terms of reference (i.e. what the hearing is about and what it will deal with) will generally be established prior to the hearing commencing.

A commission hearing may be heard before the Commissioner themselves, or before a Deputy Commissioner or other delegate. Royal Commissions or ICAC public inquiries are often heard before a retired or presiding Judge who has been appointed as the Commissioner.

Any person who is required to give evidence or supply documents at a hearing will be summonsed to give evidence, much like in a court hearing. The witness will first be asked to take an oath or affirmation that they will tell the truth before they enter the witness box. They will be asked questions by the counsel assisting the commissioner or an investigator, depending on the nature of the commission hearing. A person compelled to give evidence at a hearing is required to answer all questions honestly and/or produce they documents or things required.


A witness called before a commission is required to answer all questions and provide any documents or things required to be produced. Unlike a typical court hearing or interrogation by law enforcement, a person can be compelled to answer a question or produce a document or thing even if they would incriminate themselves by doing so.

If you have been summonsed to give evidence to a commission, it is important to get legal advice. Depending on the type of commission and the nature of the hearing, you may be able to object to answering questions on the basis of self-incrimination. However, this will only prevent the evidence given at the hearing being used in any later civil or criminal proceedings.

Where an objection is made by a witness before a commission, they will still be required to answer the question but the evidence they give will usually only be permitted to be used in that commission of inquiry, and in any proceedings relating to contempt of the commission. The evidence the witness provides will not be able to be used against them in later proceedings. However, it could be used by law enforcement to investigate or locate other evidence in a prosecution case against them.

Right to a Lawyer

In all commissions, participants have a right to legal representation.  Obtaining legal advice prior to appearing at a hearing is critical. Further, the attendance of a legal representative at the commission can be highly beneficial as the Commissioner or person conducting the hearing is not independent of the investigation. The individuals questioning witnesses are usually the ones who make the final decision about the inquiry. As such, they are very interested in gaining evidence from the person being questioned to help the investigation or inquiry.

It is important to have an experienced lawyer present. They can provide valuable assistance and advice, and can act to protect your interests. A legal representative can object to questions that are offensive or misleading, and object to questions that lead to self-incriminating evidence so that this may not be used against you in any other criminal or civil proceedings.

If you have any questions about what happens in a commission hearing or any other legal matter, contact Armstrong Legal.

Trudie Cameron

This article was written by Trudie Cameron

Trudie Cameron is the Practice Director of Criminal Law and is responsible for supervising and managing the New South Wales Criminal Law team in addition to her own caseload. She practices in both NSW and the ACT. Trudie is an accredited specialist in criminal law, practising exclusively in criminal and traffic law. Trudie defends clients charged with both state and...

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