- The term Royal Commission may also be used in the United Kingdom to describe the group of Lords Commissioners who may act in the stead of the Sovereign to grant Royal Assent to legislation passed by Parliament.
In Commonwealth realms and other monarchies a Royal Commission is a major ad-hoc formal public inquiry into a defined issue. They have been held in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia. A Royal Commission is similar in function to a Commission of Enquiry (or Inquiry) found in other countries such as Ireland, South Africa, and Hong Kong.
A Royal Commissioner has considerable powers, generally greater even than those of a judge but restricted to the Terms of Reference of the Commission. The Commission is created by the Head of State (the Sovereign, or his/her representative in the form of a Governor-General or Governor) on the advice of the Government and formally appointed by Letters Patent. In practice—unlike lesser forms of inquiry—once a Commission has started the government cannot stop it. Consequently governments are usually very careful about framing the Terms of Reference and generally include in them a date by which the commission must finish.
Royal Commissions are called to look into matters of great importance and usually controversy. These can be matters such as government structure, the treatment of minorities, events of considerable public concern or economic questions.
Many Royal Commissions last many years and, often, a different government is left to respond to the findings. In Australia—and particularly New South Wales—Royal Commissions have been investigations into police and government corruption and organised crime using the very broad coercive powers of the Royal Commissioner to defeat the protective systems that powerful, but corrupt, public officials had used to shield themselves from conventional investigation.
Royal Commissions usually involve research into an issue, consultations with experts both within and outside of government and public consultations as well. The Warrant may grant immense investigatory powers, including summoning witnesses under oath, offering of indemnities, seizing of documents and other evidence (sometimes including those normally protected, such as classified information), holding hearings in camera if necessary and—in a few cases—compelling all government officials to aid in the execution of the Commission.
The results of Royal Commissions are published in reports, often massive, of findings containing policy recommendations. (Due to the verbose nature of the titles of these formal documents – for example, the Royal commission into whether there has been corrupt or criminal conduct by any Western Australian Police Officer – they are commonly known by the name of the principal Commissioner.) While these reports are often quite influential, with the government enacting some or all recommendations into law, the work of some Commissions have been almost completely ignored by the government. In other cases, where the Commissioner has departed from the Warranted terms, the commission has been dissolved by a superior court.
Notable Royal Commissions 
- The mainland states held a number of Royal Commissions into the Railway Gauge issue.
Commonwealth of Australia 
- Royal Commission in the matter of an inquiry into a statement that there was a document missing from the official files in relation to "The Brisbane Line" (1943)
- Royal Commission on loss of HMAS Voyager (1964), investigated the collision between HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Voyager
- Royal Commission on the statement of Lieutenant Commander Cabban and matters incidental thereto (1967–1968), investigated claims that the captain of HMAS Voyager frequently drank to excess and was unfit for command
- Royal Commission on the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union ("Costigan Royal Commission") (1980–1984), investigated organised crime influences and drug trafficking in a large trade union
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking ("Stewart Royal Commission"), (1981–1983)
- Royal Commission into British nuclear tests in Australia (1984–1985)
- Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987–1991), investigated the allegedly disproportionate number of deaths of Australian Aboriginals while in custody
- Royal Commission into HIH Insurance (2001–2003), investigated the collapse of HIH Insurance, then Australia's second largest insurance company
- Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry ("Cole Royal Commission"), (2001–2003), investigated the conduct of industrial relations within the building industry
- Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-For-Food Programme ("Cole Inquiry"), (2005–2006), investigation into the alleged participation of the AWB into the Oil for Food program
New South Wales 
- Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service ("Wood Royal Commission") (1994–1997) investigated Police corruption in New South Wales.
- Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking ("Woodward Royal Commission"), (1977–1980) investigated drug trafficking in New South Wales, especially links between the Mafia and New South Wales Police and the disappearance of Donald Mackay
- Royal Commission into New South Wales Prisons ("Nagle Royal Commission"), (1976–1978)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry in respect of certain matters relating to allegations of organised crime in clubs ("Moffitt Royal Commission") (1973–74) investigated organised crime in New South Wales.
- Chelmsford Royal Commission (1989–1990) investigated patient deaths due to induced comas at the Chelmsford psychiatric hospital in Sydney during the 1960s and 1970s
- Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct ("Fitzgerald Inquiry"), (1987–1989) into Queensland Police corruption
South Australia 
- Commission appointed by the Governor-in-Chief to inquire into the loss of the "Admella" (1859)
- Royal Commission in regard to Rupert Max Stuart (1959)
- Splatt Royal Commission (1984)
- Hindmarsh Island Royal Commission (1995) investigating the legal and political controversy that involved the clash of Indigenous Australian religious beliefs and property rights regarding the construction of a bridge to Hindmarsh Island
- Kapunda Road Royal Commission (2005) investigating the circumstances surrounding the hit and run death of Ian Humphrey and the circumstances around the trial and conviction of Eugene McGee
- Royal Commission into the King Street Bridge failure, (1962–1963) (see King Street Bridge (Melbourne))
- Royal Commission into the West Gate Bridge collapse, (1970–1971) (see West Gate Bridge)
- Royal Commission into the Longford Gas Plant Accident, (1998–1999) (see 1998 Esso Longford gas explosion)
- 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission ("Black Saturday Royal Commission"), (2009–2010) investigating the events and conditions surrounding the 2009 Victorian bushfires
Western Australia 
- Royal Commission into alleged killing and burning of bodies of Aborigines in East Kimberley and into police methods when effecting arrests ("1927 Wood Royal Commission"), (1927) investigating the Forrest River massacre of Indigenous Australians
- Royal Commission into Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters ("WA Inc Royal Commission") (1990–1992) investigated the collapse of Bond Corporation, Rothwells, Bell Group, and other large businesses in Western Australia as well as government commercial enterprises
- Royal Commission into the use of Executive Power ("Marks Royal Commission") (1995) to determine the circumstances of the tabling of a petition in a family law case and the alleged misleading of WA Parliament by Carmen Lawrence
- Royal commission into whether there has been corrupt or criminal conduct by any Western Australian Police Officer ("WA Police Royal Commission"), (2002–2004) investigated high level corruption in the Western Australian police force
- Royal Independent Investigation Commission (June 2011), to examine the episodes of civil disobedience and alleged human rights offences committed in the aftermath of the February 2011 protests.
Hong Kong 
- Commission of Inquiry on Allegations relating to the Hong Kong Institute of Education (2007)
- Commission of Inquiry on the New Airport (1998–99)
- Commission of Inquiry into the Garley Building Fire (1996–97)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the illegal immigrant issue in Sabah (2012- )
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Teoh Beng Hock case (2010 - )
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam Video Clip (2007- )
- Royal Commission for Police Reform (2004)
- Royal Commission to investigate alleged injuries suffered by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim while in police custody (1999)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the fire at the Bright Sparklers factory in Sungai Buloh New Village (1991)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry to investigate a fire at Sekolah Agama Rakyat Taufikah al-Halimah in Padang Lumat, Yan, Kedah (1989)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry on the collapse of the upper deck of the Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal in Butterworth (1988)
- Royal Commission on the Teaching Services (1971)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry to Investigate the Workings of Local Authorities in West Malaysia (1968)
- Royal Commission on Salaries and Conditions of Service of the Public Service (1965)
New Zealand 
- Royal Commission on Accident Compensation (1966–67) which produced the Woodhouse Report and led to the formation of the Accident Compensation Corporation in 1974
- Royal Commission on Nuclear Power Generation in New Zealand (1976–1978)
- The 1980 Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into the Circumstances of the Convictions of Arthur Allan Thomas for the Murders (in 1970) of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe followed the freeing of Arthur Allan Thomas
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Mount Erebus Disaster; the crash of a DC10 Aircraft operated by Air New Zealand Limited on Mount Erebus, Antarctica. (Also known as "The Mahon Inquiry") (1980–1981). The findings were successfully appealed to the Privy Council, setting new legal standards for the conduct of Royal Commissions.
- Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1984–1986) investigated the electoral system
- Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (2000–2001) to look into and report on the issues surrounding genetic modification in New Zealand
- Royal Commission on Auckland Governance (2007–2009)
- Royal Commission on the Pike River Mine tragedy (2011–current)
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Building Failures Caused by the Canterbury Earthquakes (2011–current)
Saudi Arabia 
- Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu (1975) in planning, development, construction, operation and maintenance of the various infrastructure and services of Jubail and Yanbu industrial cities.
United Kingdom 
- Royal Commission for inquiring into the nature and extent of the Instruction afforded by the several Institutions in Ireland established for the purpose of Education (1824)
- Royal Commission on Railway Gauges (1845)
- Royal Commission on the Poorer Classes in Ireland 1833
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children's Employment (1840)
- Royal Commission on the British Museum (1847–49)
- Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 (1850) planned the Great Exhibition and still exists as a charitable body endowed by the proceeds
- Royal Commission on the City of London (1853–54) led to the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the first London-wide local government body.
- Royal Commission on the Health of the Army (1856–57) based on Florence Nightingale's reports on medical care during the Crimean War
- Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom (1859)
- Royal Commission on Transportation and Penal servitude (1863)
- Royal Commission on Capital Punishment 1864-1866
- Clarendon Commission (1861–64) looked into nine old public schools
- Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts (1869)
- Royal Commission on the Working of the Penal Servitude Actc &c (1878)
- Napier Commission (1883–84), formally the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands....
- Royal Commission on Secondary Education (Bryce Commission) (1895)
- Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal (1898 - 1912)
- Royal Commission on the control of the feeble-minded (1904)
- Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (1908)
- Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
- Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1909
- Royal Commission on the University of Durham (1935) — Lord Moyne
- Redcliffe-Maud Commission (1966–69) on local government
- Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers' Associations (1968)
- Royal Commission on the Constitution (1969–73), also known as the "Kilbrandon Commission" or the "Crowther Commission"
- Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1970-2011)
- Royal Commission on the Press, United Kingdom (1947–49), (1961–62), (1974–77)
- Benson Commission, or the Royal Commission on Legal Services (1976)
- Pearson commission (1973–78), Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury
- Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure (1981)
- Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly (1998)
- "Report of the Royal Commission to inquire into the Crash on Mount Erebus, Antarctica of a DC10 Aircraft operated by Air New Zealand Limited Introduction and Prologue". 1981. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- Royal Commission on the Pike River Mine disaster
- Hartevelt, John. "Pike River disaster inquiry announced". Stuff.co.nz. APN. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
- Royal Commission of Inquiry into Building Failures Caused by the Canterbury Earthquakes
- A copy of the Report of the Commission is available at: http://eppi.dippam.ac.uk/documents/9883/eppi_pages/217631 (accessed 18/11/2012)
- The Times, 22 November 1904, Index p. 7