Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care

2 December 2019

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care is looking into what happened to children, young persons and vulnerable adults while in State care, or in the care of faith-based institutions between 1950 and 1999.

The Royal Commission was announced by the Government in February 2018 and the Terms of Reference were announced in November 2018. The first formal public hearing involving institutions, lawyers, academics, survivors and their networks took place from 29 October 2019 for approximately two weeks.

There will be several public hearings held throughout the Inquiry each running for between one to three weeks. Each public hearing will investigate a different topic or particular institution, and will be held in venues open and accessible to the public. Through the public hearings Commissioners will hear evidence and information about abuse in State care and faith-based institutions. The evidence will help the Inquiry make independent, unbiased findings to inform recommendations to the Government.

The Catholic Bishops and Religious Congregational Leaders of the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand have offered their full support to the Commission’s principles and aims. Te Rōpū Tautoko (Support Group), referred to as ‘Tautoko’, has been established to co-ordinate and manage co-operation between the Commission and the Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The first public hearing ‒ the Contextual hearing ‒ was held between 29 October to 8 November 2019, at the Rydges Hotel in Auckland.

Survivors, family members and supporters, academics, representatives of interested organisations and members of the public watched the hearing from the public gallery, and it was live-streamed across New Zealand.

Twenty-nine witnesses gave evidence and the Disability Rights commissioners, counsel for the Crown, and counsel for Tautoko made statements to the Royal Commission. Witnesses included experts, survivors of abuse, and experts who had survived abuse themselves.

From the hearing, eight key themes were apparent.

  • Abuse and the impact of abuse in care on Māori.
  • Abuse and the impact of abuse in care on people with learning disabilities.
  • Adoption.
  • The impact of abuse on survivors.
  • The redress process.
  • The Privacy Act.
  • Recommendations for change in the State context.
  • Abuse in the Catholic Church, including recommendations for change.

The Royal Commission has indicated they will release a draft scoping document for the investigation into the Catholic Church in December 2019. Tautoko will be able to make submissions on this document.

It is likely the Royal Commission will examine the prevalence of abuse, historic responses, safeguarding, formation and current redress processes, as well as how features of the Catholic Church may contribute to abuse such as the confessional seal and mandatory celibacy. These are expected to run as ‘mini-commissions’ with counsel appointed by the Royal Commission to lead the investigation, public hearings and the submission of evidence.


The Royal Commission’s focus is on the period between January 1950 and December 1999, with an underlying discretion to consider abuse and neglect that occurred beyond that timeframe. As well as looking into physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse and neglect, the Inquiry will also be able to look into inadequate care or improper treatment that resulted in serious physical or mental harm to individuals.

As well as looking backwards to determine what happened in the past, the Royal Commission will also seek to identify what needs to change to prevent any abuse or neglect from happening again in the future. The Commission is set to run over several years, with an initial report to be provided by December 2020 and a final report to be delivered before January 2023.

Published in WelCom December 2019

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