Investigative hearings, which are also referred to as coercive hearings, are an investigative tool used to gather evidence often without the usual rights to silence and in some cases in secret. Investigative hearings are at times unusual in nature and can be quite intimidating. It is vital that those served with a Notice requiring their attendance at an investigative hearing obtain legal advice prior to the hearing.
Their a number of different bodies that can serve Notices which require attendance at an investigative hearing, this include, but are not limited to;
- Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC)
- Australian Crime Commission (ACC).
- Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ).
- Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DRNME)
- Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC)
Investigative hearings can strip away the rights that many people take for granted or would expect to have afforded to them when answering questions in a legal setting. If you are served with a Notice to attend a hearing, then you should obtain legal advice at an early stage. Obtaining early legal advice will ensure that you are able to comply with your obligations under the Notice whilst at the same time protecting any claims of privilege you may wish to make and preserving any rights that you may have.
What to Expect
The aim of an investigative or coercive hearing is to allow investigators to gain additional information in relation to a certain event, incident, person, or persons. In the CCC or ACC this may be as part of a Police Investigation or intelligence gathering.
In some circumstances, particularly with CCC & ACC matters, the hearings may be conducted in a room which resembles a Court room and conducted in a similar fashion. It is important to note that these are not Court proceedings, despite the setting however they still do carry with them an aspect of formality and strict procedure.
Often, WSHQ, ASIC and DRNME proceedings are conducted a little less formally, usually in a meeting type environment however the requirements to answer questions and engage with the process is still required and enforceable.
The Role of Your Lawyer
It is important to obtain legal advice in a timely manner once you have been served with a Notice to attend an investigative hearing. Engaging a lawyer at an early stage will ensure that we are able to assist you in preserving and protect any rights that you may have under the relevant legislation. We will provide you with advice as to the relevant circumstances where you are able to claim privilege and subsequently refuse to answer questions.
In certain circumstances applications can be made which will restrict how the questions and the answers you give can later be used. In some circumstances a person may believe that answering a certain question will result in them admitting to a criminal offence. In the CCC, for example, applications are able to be made which will prevent the answer given, being able to be used against you in a later proceeding, unless that answer is false or a lie.
We have extensive experience in a variety of different investigative hearings. Don’t leave things to chance, ensure that you obtain proper legal advice so that fully understand the process and your obligations.
Requirement to Answer Questions and Removal of the Right to Silence
A unique and often concerning aspect of Investigative Hearings is the requirement of a person to answer questions and the removal of the right to silence. Investigative or coercive hearings are not undertaken to make a decision as to guilt or innocence but rather to investigative an incident, person or person.
For many, the concern is the requirement to answer questions and the ramifications of answering those questions. In the majority of circumstances, a witness must answer any and all questions put to them even if they believe that those answers may result in them admitting to an offence.
In some circumstances there are certain criteria that must be meet before a witness can be compelled to answer questions. Some agencies for example must have an incident which fits into a certain category in order to enact these powers. It is important to obtain legal advice at an early stage to ensure that you understand whether or not you must answer the questions and if so, the protections that may be available to you.
Effect of Notice & Obligations following hearing
In many circumstances the issuing of a Notice may result in a person instantly having obligations and restrictions placed upon them. Those issued with Notices to attend at the CCC are usually restricted from discussing the Notice and the evidence given by them as a result of that Notice with anyone other than a lawyer.
It is important that you obtain legal advice at an early stage to ensure that you fully understand the obligations of a Notice being issued.
A person who is issued a Notice to appear before an investigative hearing must, in the majority of matters, answer the questions put to them. In many circumstances it is an offence to lie or give misleading answers at a hearing and doing so may result in a witness being liable to prosecution for perjury.
If you have been issued with a Notice to appear before a statutory body such as the CCC, ASIC or DRNME then you should obtain legal advice. At Potts Lawyers we have extensive experience appearing in investigative and coercive hearings, contact us for an initial consultation as to how we may assist and make a stand for you in these proceedings.