Frequently asked questions about the Royal Commission and its Terms of Reference.

Terms of Reference

Royal Commission

Private sessions

For prisoners

Terms of Reference

I am older and/or unwell – can I speak to you urgently?

We will do everything we can to prioritise those who are aged/unwell and who want to share their stories.


Can I talk to you if I have already spoken to a listening service, made a complaint, or received redress or settlement through another process?

Yes.  The Inquiry will hear from anyone within scope, even if you have already participated in another process of any kind.  This includes the “CLAS” (Confidential Listening and Advice Service), the Confidential Forum for Former in-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals, any of the Historic Claims Units, the Police, or any other process.


Can I still make a complaint to other agencies?

People can still make a complaint or claim to the Government or others, including the Police, while the Inquiry does its work.  The Inquiry’s work does not mean that cases will be put on hold, or that new claims can’t be made.  We can, however, recommend changes to make complaints and claims processes better in the future.


What is out of scope?  

The Inquiry cannot generally look at abuse that happened in prisons, general hospitals, aged residential and in-home care, and immigration detention. The Inquiry can only look at these places if someone was in State or faith-based care at the time. While we can’t look at prisons in general, we can look at the fact that people in care often went on to experience the prison system. We can look at this from the person’s perspective and think about the impact this had on their family and whānau (the next generation).

This Inquiry cannot generally look at abuse and neglect that happened in a fully private setting. The word ‘private’ here does not mean where the abuse and neglect physically took place (for example, behind closed doors). What is excluded is where the state or faith-based institution was not responsible for the care of the person at the time of the abuse, for example abuse by parents of their own children.

However, if abuse occurred when a person was not formally in the care of the state or a faith-based institution but the state had some knowledge of actual or possible abuse, then the Commissioners will hear that account.

Even if your situation is not covered, we may still be able to hear from you. If you are unsure about whether you are covered, please get in touch with us.

Some other limits on what we can do 

There are limits on what the Inquiry can do.  We cannot review individual court decisions, but we can look at how court decisions were made in general, whether the right information was available to courts and what laws and rules they had to follow at the time.

The Inquiry’s role is not to prosecute people, sue them, or discipline them (for example, remove them from duty).  But we can refer cases to other agencies - for example the Police.


What powers does the Royal Commission have?

The Royal Commission has powers to receive any evidence that may assist it; to require any person or body (including a Government agency) to produce documents or other information; and to summons witnesses to give evidence. 


What if I live out of New Zealand?

Almost all of the Inquiry’s work will happen in New Zealand, but this won’t limit our ability to listen to people who are out of New Zealand. 


Can the Inquiry hear about abuse of someone who has died?

Yes. We can hear from family members, friends, or anyone else with relevant information.


The person who abused me is very ill or has passed away.  Am I still able to share my experience?

Yes.  The Inquiry has been asked to look at abuse and neglect that happened in institutions.  This means that, in some cases, people may have passed away or may no longer live in New Zealand.  This will not prevent you from sharing your experience with us.  You will still be able to come forward.


Why was faith-based care included and what's in scope?

Many of the 400 submissions that Sir Anand received suggested that the inclusion of non-state care in the Terms of Reference would be appropriate. Sir Anand agreed with that view and reported to the Government on this. The Government acknowledges there is a wider responsibility to all children.

You are in scope if you were abused in a faith-based setting, for example as an altar boy/girl. You are also in scope if you were abused by a priest, a member of clergy or a person of authority at home or on a trip away.

The concept of a faith-based institution is very broad and includes all major religions for example Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Jehovah Witness. It also extends to any group that is connected to a religious or spiritual belief system.


Royal Commission

When can I tell my story?

The Chair will work together with the Commissioners and key stakeholders to plan how the Inquiry will run. While it may take some time to get the appropriate support services in place the inquiry will be up and running in 2019.  

The Royal Commission will then contact anyone who has pre-registered with us and will publicise when, where and how survivors can be involved.

Will the Inquiry pay compensation?

No, the Inquiry is not the vehicle to award or pay out compensation. 

The Inquiry has been asked to make recommendations to the Government about the process of compensation and what that might look like in the future.

How long will the Inquiry run?

It is anticipated the Inquiry will take a number of years.  The Royal Commission is expected to provide the Governor General with an interim report in 2020, and final report in 2023.

Can you progress my case through the courts?

No, the Royal Commission is not able to advance a case in the courts. In some cases, we may refer people to the Police if they wish to make a formal complaint about criminal offending.

Do I have to tell the Royal Commission about crimes I have committed?

No. The Royal Commission is investigating what abuse took place in care. Those participating will not be asked questions, or be asked to provide any information, about crimes they may have committed in the past. Anybody participating in the Royal Commission (including giving evidence at a public hearing) has the privilege against self-incrimination. This means you do not need to provide any information, about crimes you may have committed.

What if I choose to tell the Royal Commission in a private session about crimes I have committed?

The Royal Commission’s private sessions will be kept confidential, with only very limited exceptions. These exceptions are:

If you tell us about any current serious risk to the health and safety of any person – for example if you tell us you are going to commit suicide, or that you are currently at risk of assaulting or sexually abusing someone – we will have to tell the Police or authorities.

If you tell us about serious criminal offending that is ongoing or planned for the future, we will also have to tell the Police or authorities.

Unless those exceptions apply, we will make sure that all information you give us about your past crimes is kept confidential, to the extent permitted by the law.

What are Public Hearings?

Royal Commission Inquiries are reserved for New Zealand’s the most serious issues. It is therefore critical that the information that comes to the attention of the Commission is shared with the public to support and inform community discussions. Public hearings are a key mechanism for this to occur.

Hearings are a means to ensure that independent, unbiased findings and recommendations are made by the Royal Commission, based on principles of fairness and natural justice.

The evidence heard during the course of the public hearings will inform the Royal Commission’s final report.

The public hearings process will involve:

  • Preliminary hearings which set out the scope and focus for the overall inquiry itself as well as each specific topic, including identification of key witnesses and research;
  • An investigation which pulls together the key information relevant to the specific hearing;
  • A public hearing which may be live-streamed with the purpose of testing the information put forward by core participants and the Royal Commission.

The first Public hearing – a Preliminary hearing – is scheduled to take place in mid-2019. More information will be available soon. Some survivors may be asked to participate in a Public Hearing if they wish, but they are under no compulsion to do so.

An “evidential” hearing is scheduled to take place later this year. This may be a contextual hearing, where Commissioners hear evidence from expert witnesses who can speak of their experiences in working with or for survivors of abuse in care, or generally about the experiences of particular groups of New Zealanders who have suffered abuse in care. The details of the first evidential hearing have not been finalised yet.

How many survivors have you spoken with so far?

At 31 May, more than 70 survivors who had pre-registered with the Royal Commission will have had a private session with a Commissioner.

How will survivors living overseas talk to Commissioners?

Our Term of Reference allows Commissioners or their representatives to travel overseas to gather information or evidence from participants. There also the opportunity for survivors to share their experiences in writing or using modern technology tools to ensure information is passed on. (The matter of counselling sessions outside New Zealand for survivors is important and is being looked into.)

Can or will the Royal Commission investigate and award rehabilitation or compensation relate to cases survivors have with the UN Committee Against Torture?

Some survivors have brought cases before the United Nations Committee against Torture (UNCAT). Torture is a form of abuse. As such, all survivors are welcome and encouraged to tell the Commission about their experiences. However, as a Commission of Inquiry, the Royal Commission has no ability or power to make orders for rehabilitation or award compensation to survivors. The Commission’s Terms of Reference (clause 33) make it clear the Commission does not have the power to determine the civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability of any person. The Commission might, however, identify who is responsible and may make recommendations that further steps be taken to determine civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability.

The Royal Commission must identify, examine and report on the matters within its scope. This includes the nature and extent of abuse and the redress and rehabilitation processes for individuals who have suffered abuse in care, including improvements to redress and rehabilitation processes. By making findings and/or recommendations in its report to the Governor-General, the Royal Commission may influence decisions on rehabilitation and redress.

What is the Royal Commission Survivor Advisory Group?

The inquiry has established a Survivor Advisory Group, comprising survivors of abuse in State care and in the care of faith-based institutions that, from time to time, will provide assistance to inquiry members. This group has been established to provide assistance to inquiry members and will help the inquiry focus on victims and survivors by ensuring the voices of survivors are heard and recognised by the inquiry.

At the inquiry’s request, the groups may be asked to provide feedback on matters the inquiry is considering.

The advisory groups do not have a decision-making function; their role is advisory only.

Individual appointments to the Survivor Advisory Group are for an initial term of up to 18 months with an opportunity to reapply.

Being appointed to the Survivor Advisory Group does not alter an individual’s employment status prior to their appointment (eg, self-employed, employee, not employed). Members are neither employees of, nor contractors to, the Royal Commission or the Crown.

The Survivor Advisory Group will meet at least four times per year for a full day each time. Depending on the needs of the Commission as well as feedback from the Survivor Advisory Group itself as to how often they ought to meet, meetings may be more frequent than this.

How are the Survivor Advisory Group chosen?

Individuals are appointed to the Survivor Advisory Group after evaluation against set criteria:

  • Direct survivor of State based or faith based care as a child
  • Direct survivor of State based or faith based care and or as a vulnerable adult (disabled; psych survivors)
  • Has some understanding of the background to and extent of the inquiry
  • Conveys an understanding of institutional racism and of ableism, sexism and homophobia
  • Conveys a robust understanding of the context and impacts of abuse and trauma
  • Conveys understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the unique position of Tāngata Whenua in relation to the Crown
  • Possesses the knowledge and experience required to participate in a Royal Commission Advisory Group providing advice to Commissioners and Secretariat
  • Demonstrates how the Survivor Advisory group can support the Inquiry to achieve its goals (i.e. the TOR)
  • Has previous experience participating in an advisory group or as a representative for a group, organisation or network
  • An identified member of one of the TOR priority groups (i.e. Māori; Pasifika; Disabled - including psychiatric survivors)
  • An identified member of one of the Commissioner identified priority groups (i.e. Hard to Reach communities; youth; LGTBTQI)
  • Able to identify potential conflicts of interest and manage boundaries between Inquiry work and other work or activities (e.g. media; social media)
  • Able to work collaboratively across all survivor groups in relation to the Terms of Reference.
  • Demonstrates honesty, integrity, confidentiality and wisdom &
  • Is available consistently for 18 months, has the time to undertake activities between meetings, and to prepare and participate in at least four meetings per year

It is important to the Royal Commission that the voices of survivors are heard from a diverse range of people who will have some similar but also many different histories and experiences. For this reason, the Royal Commission has tried to ensure the membership of the Survivor Advisory Group is as diverse as possible, with a mix of genders, ethnicities and people from various disability communities.

How will the Survivor Advisory Group be provided for?

All members of the Survivor Advisory Group will be given a koha, or gift, of an amount decided to be suitable, using State Sector indicators, for attendance at meetings as well as for preparation and travel time.

All members of the Survivor Advisory Group will be reimbursed for expenses they incur as part of their work on Survivor Advisory Group business.

No receipt, no reimbursement: Receipts must be kept of any expenses incurred and provided to the Royal Commission.

The types of expenses the Royal Commission would expect individuals to incur include:

  • Travel - flights, bus, train, taxis
  • Accommodation - hotel/motel
  • Meals - within set limits (no alcohol)
  • Support - where needed if, for example, a disability exists

If an individual intends to incur any expense different from the types of expenses listed above, they must obtain prior approval from the Royal Commission. All travel and accommodation will, where possible and practicable, be booked and paid for by the Royal Commission.

Where people travel by car for Survivor Advisory Group/Royal Commission business, we will reimburse you for actual petrol costs.


Private sessions

What is a private session?

At a private session survivors can share their experiences of abuse with the Royal Commission of Inquiry. Private sessions are an opportunity for survivors to talk with a Commissioner.

All Commissioners will meet survivors in private sessions. If survivors have any issues with their assigned Commissioner/s, we encourage survivors to let the Commission know. Survivors can decide not to take part in a private session at any stage and can also withdraw their consent for their information to be used by the Royal Commission.

The private sessions are not part of a legal process so lawyers are not expected to be involved.

Survivors will be asked to sign a consent form to say they agree to take part in the confidential private session and agree to the session being recorded. Later, this recording will be transcribed. A session facilitator will also be at the private session to take notes of what is said.

Information from private sessions can be used in a number of ways. For example, it may be included in research reports or used to identify topics for the Inquiry to investigate. If lots of people talk about experiences in the same institution then this institution may become an investigation topic. Or, if many people talk about a certain type of abuse, this may become an investigation topic (e.g. ECT).

Early private sessions were also being used to seek feedback from survivors on things such as content and process, logistics, location, communications and support to improve the delivery of future sessions.

How long does a private session take?

Approximately four hours have been allowed for each private session. This includes time for participants to:

  • confirm their understanding of the session
  • work through informed consent
  • consider the orientation of the venue and room
  • seek access (optional) to a wellbeing professional
  • have breaks as needed, and
  • prepare and de-brief with their support person.

How are survivors supported to attend a private session?

Everyone who participates in these sessions will have a support co-ordinator from the Royal Commission contact them to organise the logistics of their session. They will be sent an information pack outlining the purpose of the sessions and what to expect on the day.

Survivors can bring a support person (or people) with them to their private session. These people will also need to agree to maintain the confidentiality of the sessions.

A wellness professional will be available for survivors to speak to before and after the private session. Additional counselling and other support will be available if needed.

How was the private sessions approach designed?

The Commission sought independent expert advice and considered the approach taken by Inquiries in other jurisdictions.

The initial pilot sessions are being used to seek feedback from participating survivors on things such as content and process, logistics, location, communications and support to improve the delivery of the sessions.


For prisoners

What information can people in prison access?

Fact sheets containing information about the Inquiry including: examples of care; examples of abuse; and ways people can contact the Inquiry, are available at all prisons.

Additional information is also available on the touchscreen self-service kiosk at all prisons.

People in prison can get more information by calling the Inquiry’s free 0800 phone number. This number is approved by Corrections as an unmonitored and un-recorded number.

How can people in prison contact the Inquiry?

People in prison can contact the Inquiry by telephone or in writing.

People in prison can call the Inquiry’s free 0800 phone number. This number is approved by Corrections as an unmonitored and un-recorded number.

People in prison can write to the Inquiry using the PO Box number. Letters to the Inquiry will be treated as confidential.

A family or whanau member, or support person, can also contact the Inquiry on behalf of a person in prison if they have written consent to do so.

How can people in prison be involved in the Inquiry?

People in prison have the same options available to share their experience as people who are not in prison. This includes face-to-face with a Commissioner in a private meeting or by sending in a written account.

A support person(s) of the survivors choosing can be present at the face-to-face meeting or can assist in the writing down of the account. However, to enter the prison the support person(s) must be an approved prison visitor for the survivor.

If a person is invited to provide evidence at a Public Hearing an audio-visual link may be considered as an alternative to releasing the person from prison. Corrections will consider enabling people in prison to attend Public Hearings on a case-by-case basis.

What support is available for people in prison engaging with the Inquiry?

People in prison will be offered similar support options to people who are not in prison. For example, survivors will be asked about what types of support they may need to participate fully and to ensure their wellbeing both before and after they share their experience. This support may include face-to-face or telephone counselling, connections to mental health, wellbeing services, or advocacy and support agencies that operate in prisons.

The Inquiry encourages all survivors to maintain a dialogue with our staff about how we can best meet their support needs.

How will the privacy of people in prison engaging with the Inquiry be upheld?

The privacy and confidentiality protections for people engaging with the Inquiry from prison are the same as for people who are not in prison.

However there are reasonable and necessary exceptions based on logistical requirements, for example, so that Corrections staff can arrange a private meeting between a survivor and a Commissioner, a counselling session, or an audio-visual link to facilitate participation in a Public Hearing.

Who can I contact if I have any questions?

The Inquiry and the Department of Corrections are committed to working together to support people in prison to access the work of the Inquiry and participate fully.

If you have any questions about matters related to Corrections you can contact

I you have any questions about matters related to the Inquiry you can contact