Join the fight to end violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability by engaging with the Disability Royal Commission.

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General Royal Commission Terms

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 email us at if you have suggestions for words that should be included.


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, 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. They have QC or SC after their name in formal situations. Queen’s Counsel and Senior Counsel mean the same thing – different states might use one or the other. Many of the lawyers who participate in the Royal Commission have this title.


Adjourn: When a formal meeting, like a court session, stops. The same word is used for a break or when the meeting is finished. Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission sometimes ask for an adjournment so they can find documents the Commission has asked for, or because the witness they are talking to needs a rest.

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.

Dedifferentiation: People might say this word when they talk about how research and systems should look at people with intellectual disability. Dedifferentiation means treating people with all kinds of disability as one big group when you do research or write rules and policy. Differentiation is being specific about smaller groups like people with intellectual disability. 

There are good and bad things about both ways of doing things. It can be easier to fight for our rights when we do it as one big group. It has helped people get children with disability more included in mainstream schools. On the other hand, people with intellectual disability need specific types of support so they can access a lot of things, and it can be harder to make sure that support is there if you don’t talk specifically about the people it is for.

Find out more in this paper by Christine Bigby & Jennifer Clegg.

Disaggregated data: Data means facts or statistics. When people working with statistics aggregate data, that means they put all the data about different individuals together. For example, a survey might ask a lot of people questions about their health, and then the aggregated data shows how often people in Australia get sick. After that, they can dis-aggregate the data – that means separate out pieces of it to find out about specific things. For example, they might separate answers from different postcodes to find out if people get sick more often in some places than others.

Leave to appear: Sometimes the Disability Royal Commission will give someone leave to appear at a hearing. A person with leave to appear (or their lawyer) is allowed to participate in the hearing in certain ways, like asking questions of witnesses when the Chair allows, or accessing documents that have been submitted into evidence.

Anyone can ask the Disability Royal Commission for leave to appear at a hearing. The Royal Commission can say yes or no, or ask for more information. They will only say yes to people who can show that they have a “direct and substantial interest” in the subject matter of the hearing.

You don’t need to apply for leave to appear to be a witness, or to attend a hearing as a member of the public. Find out more in Practice guideline 6 – Leave to appear.

Public interest immunity: A claim that someone, usually the Government, can’t show a court or committee the document it has asked for because it would harm the “public interest.” That can mean different things.

Public interest immunity might apply to:

  • information that could get in the way of a criminal investigation
  • information that could be a risk to national security
  • information that could hamper “relations between the Commonwealth and a State or between 2 or more States” or “the proper functioning of the government of the Commonwealth or a State”

These examples are from NSW law.

Qualitative vs quantitative research: Quantitative research looks at numbers and statistics. It is often used to compare two or more ways of doing something. For example, how many people feel better when they take one medication compared to how many people feel better when they take a different one, or don’t take anything. Qualitative research looks at things that are hard to describe with numbers, like culture or family relationships. It is often used to find out how people feel about a topic, or what sorts of questions later quantitative research should be asking. For example, a researcher might talk to people in interviews or focus groups.