Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to contact us if you have suggestions for words that should be included.
General Terms, Concepts, and Practices
Counsel: This is how a lawyer is referred to in a courtroom or an official hearing. There are two kinds of lawyers – solicitors and barristers. People who appear at a hearing as Counsel are barristers.
Counsel Assisting: Formally, this is the Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission. These are the lawyers working on behalf of and for the Royal Commission. They do a lot of different things. They try to work out the best ways for the Commission to look into different things, they make sure hearings run smoothly, they write reports, and they make sure the Commission decides on rules about how they’re going to do things and then sticks to those rules. Counsel Assisting appear at public hearings and ask questions of witnesses. The Commission can also allow other Counsel to ask questions, like a Counsel representing the State Government.
Senior Counsel (or ‘Queen’s Counsel’): This is a title, not a job description, generally used for more senior lawyers. It just means the Bar Association recognised that person as one of their best lawyers. Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel mean the same thing – different states might use one or the other. They will have QC or SC after their name in formal situations. Many of the lawyers who will participate in the Royal Commission will have this title.
Leave to Appear: This means a person or group has been given permission to appear at a public hearing. People ask for leave to appear if they feel the hearing is about something important to them, or if they feel they have relevant evidence to give. Leave to appear can be given to people if they apply, or if they are invited by the commission. The hearings page on the Commission’s website has more information on how to apply.
Compelling witnesses: The Commission has the power to make witnesses speak at a hearing or give the Commission documents. Saying no without a good reason is breaking the law. It’s similar to how a regular court uses a ‘subpoena’. They have promised to use that power with care, and won’t force people with disability to engage with Royal Commission if they don’t want to, or if it’s not safe or accessible for them. These powers are mainly for making government bodies, businesses and other organisations provide evidence. If you make a submission about your experience as a person with disability and the Commission would like you to give evidence at a hearing, they will ask you to do that. You can say yes or no to this request.
AAC: This stands for augmentative and alternative communication. It covers a lot of different ways a person with disability might communicate. For example: communicating through mime and gestures, choosing cards with pictures that show what you want to say, or technology that lets you choose letters or words by tracking your eye movement.
Impairment: An impairment is a medical condition where a person’s body or mind doesn’t work the way people expect it to, like not being able to walk or having seizures. Some people use the words ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’ to mean the same thing. This is the medical model of disability. PWDA, and other disability rights organisations, use the social model of disability.