On 15 April 2020, the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess was established, led by Bret Walker SC. This inquiry will have regard to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the following voyages of the Ruby Princess;
- The departure from Sydney of the Ruby Princess on 8 March 2020;
- The voyage of the Ruby Princess between 8 March and 19 March 2020;
- The docking and disembarkation of the Ruby Princess at Sydney on 19 March 2020; and
- Subsequent efforts to diagnose and treat, and to contain the community transmission of COVID-19 by, Ruby Princess passengers.
Operation of a Special Commission of Inquiry
Under the Special Commissions of Inquiry Act 1983 (NSW), letters patent are issued, authorising or requiring the person to inquire into and report to the Governor on any matter specified in the commission, and to establish a Special Commission of Inquiry for that purpose.
As part of these letter patent, a ‘terms of reference’ is provided for the Special Commission to inquire into and report on. In the case of the Ruby Princess, this includes;
- The knowledge, decisions and actions of Ruby Princess crew, medical staff and the ship operator, Princess Cruises, with respect to cases or potential cases of respiratory infections on the ship;
- The information provided to, communications between, and decisions and actions of Commonwealth and NSW agencies, including the Australian Border Force, the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, NSW Health, the NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance and the Port Authority of NSW;
- Policies and protocols applied by Princess Cruises and Commonwealth and NSW Government agencies with respect to managing suspected or potential COVID-19 cases;
- Communications by Commonwealth and NSW Government agencies to passengers disembarking the Ruby Princess; and
- Any other related matters that the Commissioner considers appropriate.
Hearings of a Special Commission of Inquiry
Under the Act, the Commissioner is empowered to hold hearings in connection with the Special Commission. These hearings take place in public unless the Commissioner is satisfied that it is desirable for these to be conducted in private due to matters being of a confidential nature.
The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess will hold both public and private hearings in Sydney.
The Commission held these public hearings on from Tuesday 5 May 2020 to 11 May 2020. The transcripts and exhibits from these hearing can be found on the Special Commission’s website.
Submissions to a Special Commission of Inquiry
In addition to these hearings, submissions can also be submitted for consideration by the Commissioner and Counsel Assisting. Passengers of the Ruby Princess between 24 February 2020 and 19 March 2020, and those persons with information or documents relevant to the Commission’s terms of reference, have been invited to make a submission to the Inquiry. All submissions provided by the deadline of 29 May 2020 will be considered by the Commission.
Reports of the Special Commission of Inquiry
It is the duty of a Commissioner, within such period or periods as may be specified in the relevant commission, to make a report or reports to the Governor in connection with the subject-matter of the commission, and in particular as to whether there is or was any evidence or sufficient evidence warranting the prosecution of a specified person for a specified offence.
The Commissioner for the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess must report to the Premier and the Governor by 14 August 2020.