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Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: The Royal Commission and its Records, 1987–91


Appendix 1: The Commission's terms of reference

The following chronology of the issue of Commonwealth Letters Patent is based on Appendix A to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody National Report, Vol 5 (Commissioner Elliott Johnston), AGPS Canberra, 1991.

Chronology of the issue of Commonwealth Letters Patent and the effect of each change

16 October 1987

The Honourable James Henry Muirhead, QC was appointed to inquire into and report upon

  1. the deaths in Australia since 1 January 1980 of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders whilst in police custody, in prison or in any other place of detention,
  2. any subsequent action taken in respect of those deaths.

Commissioner Muirhead was requested to report the findings of his inquiry and to make such recommendations as appropriate by 31 December 1988 or such later date as May be fixed. The Letters Patent authorised Commissioner Muirhead to conduct his inquiry in consultation with any Commission issued by Governors of the States.

21 December 1987

Commissioner Muirhead was authorised to conduct his inquiry in combination with any Commissions issued under the law of the Northern Territory.

6 May 1988

Commissioner Muirhead's Letters Patent were amended to –

  1. vary the specification of the deaths under inquiry to: the deaths in Australia since 1 January 1980 of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders whilst in police custody, in prison or-in any other place of detention, but not including such a death occurring in a hospital, mental institution, infirmary or medical treatment centre unless injuries suffered while in police custody, in prison or in any place of detention caused or contributed to that death,
  2. authorise him, for the purpose of reporting on any underlying issues associated with the deaths to take account of social, cultural and legal factors which, in his judgment appeared to have a bearing on the deaths,
  3. authorise him to refer to other Commissioners for inquiry or request another Commissioner not to undertake inquiry into a particular death,
  4. authorise him to issue guidelines to the Commissioners as to methods and procedures,
  5. authorise him to receive reports from the other Commissioners,
  6. require him to submit all reports, including those of the other Commissioners, by 31 December 1989 or such later date as May be fixed.

Letters Patent were also issued to three additional Commissioners with responsibility to conduct inquiries in particular States as follows:

  • The Honourable Elliott Frank Johnston, QC: Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory
  • The Hon. John Halden Wootten, QC: New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania
  • Lewis Francis Wyvill, QC: Queensland

The new Commissioners were required to submit their reports to Commissioner Muirhead by 30 June 1989 and thereafter be available to consult with him in the preparation of his report.

27 October 1988

Commissioner Muirhead's final reporting date was amended to 31 December 1990.

The Hon. Daniel John O'Dea was appointed to conduct inquiries in Western Australia.

Commissioner O'Dea was required to submit his reports by 30 September.

The reporting dates of Commissioners Johnston, Wootten and Wyvill were varied to 31 December 1989.

7 December 1988

A minor amendment was made to Commissioner O'Dea's Letters Patent to conform with the specification of location of death contained in the Letters Patent of the other Commissioners.

27 April 1989

Commissioner Muirhead's Commission was revoked with effect at noon on 28 April 1989.

Commissioner Elliott Frank Johnston was appointed (with bridging provisions) to take over from Commissioner Muirhead (the former's earlier Commission was revoked).

The specification of deaths to be inquired into was varied in all commissions to exclude any deaths occurring after 31 May 1989.

The reporting dates of Commissioners Wootten and Wyvill were varied to 30 September 1990.

28 June 1989

Patrick Lionel Dodson was appointed to inquire into underlying issues associated with deaths in custody of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Western Australia. Commissioner Dodson was required to submit his report to Commissioner Johnston and to undertake to consult with him in the preparation of his final report. (Commissioner Dodson's appointment returned the Commission to full strength of five Commissioners, the number of Commissioners having been reduced to four on the departure of Commissioner Muirhead. Because of the workload in Western Australia the inquiry was divided on a functional basis between inquiry into individual deaths (Commissioner O'Dea) and into underlying issues.)

24 September 1990

Commissioner Johnston's reporting date was extended to 31 March 1991.

The reporting dates of Commissioners Dodson, O'Dea, Wootten and Wyvill in respect of their regional reports of overall findings were extended to 30 November 1990 (the deadline for reporting on individual cases in respect of Commissioners O'Dea, Wootten and Wyvill remained 30 September 1990).

11 October 1990

Commissioner Wootten's reporting date in respect of his inquiry into individual deaths was extended to 31 December 1990. (This amendment was made so that Commissioner Wootten could conduct an inquiry into the death of David Gundy; his earlier ruling that the death was within his jurisdiction had been challenged and the matter was not resolved in the courts in time for him to complete the inquiry prior to 30 September 1990.)

9 November 1990

Commissioner Wootten's reporting date in respect of the overall findings of his inquiries was extended to 31 December 1990.

27 March 1991

Commissioner Johnston's reporting date was extended to 26 April 1991.

Dates of issue of Commonwealth Letters Patent and dates of parallel action* in the States and the Northern Territory

Letters Patent were issued by Their Excellencies the Governors of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

His Excellency the Governor of Western Australia issued Commissions.

In the Northern Territory the appointment of Commissioner Muirhead and, upon his departure, of Commissioner Johnston was made under the Commission of Inquiry (Deaths in Custody) Act 1987. His Honour the Administrator issued Letters Patent to Commissioner Johnston before he took over from Commissioner Muirhead as National Commissioner, and to the other Commissioners.

C’wealth NSW VIC QLD WA SA TAS NT
16 Oct 87
Muirhead
21 Oct 87
Muirhead
10 Nov 87
Muirhead
29 Oct 87
Muirhead
10 Nov 87
Muirhead
10 Nov 87
Muirhead
23 Nov 87
Muirhead
 
21 Dec 87
Muirhead
            21 Dec 87
Muirhead
6 May 88
Muirhead Johnston Wootten Wyvill
17 Aug 88
Muirhead Wootten
7 Jun 88
Muirhead Johnston Wootten Wyvill
2 Jun 88
Muirhead Wyvill

21 Jun 88
Muirhead Johnston

18 Oct 88
Wootten Wyvill

2 Jun 88
Muirhead Johnston Wootten Wyvill
11 Jul 88
Muirhead Johnston Wootten Wyvill
29 Jul 88
Johnston Wootten Wyvill
27 Oct 88
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
25 Jan 89
Muirhead Wootten
13 Dec 88
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
15 Dec 88
Muirhead Wyvill
6 Dec 88
O’Dea
17 Nov 88
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
19 Dec 88
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
30 Nov 88
Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
7 Dec 88
O’Dea
             
27 Apr 89
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
10 May 89
Muirhead Johnston Wootten

26 Apr 89
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

2 May 89
Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

29 Jun 89
Muirhead Johnston Wyvill
8 Aug 89
Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

27 Apr 89
Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

18 May 89
Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

2 May 89
Muirhead Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

15 Jun
89 Johnston

31 Aug 89 Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill

28 Jun 89
Dodson
      8 Aug 89
Dodson
29 Nov 90
Johnston Dodson O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
   
24 Sep 90
Johnston Dodson O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
26 Sep 90
Johnston Wootten
  27 Sep 90
Johnston Wyvill
9 Oct 90
Johnston Dodson O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
  6 Nov 90
Johnston O’Dea Wootten Wyvill
 
11 Oct 90
Wootten
             
9 Nov 90
Wootten
  18 Dec 90
Johnston Wootten
         
27 Mar 90
Johnston
             

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