What is a ‘Stay of Proceedings’ in New South Wales?

by Sonia Hickey & Ugur Nedim
What is a ‘Stay of Proceedings’ in New South Wales?

Former rugby league player Chris Dawson will stand trial for allegedly murdering his wife Lynette Dawson 40 years ago.

Mr Dawson pleaded not guilty to murder charges laid against him in 2018.

He was scheduled to stand trial in February 2020, but the Supreme Court of New South Wales granted him a nine-month stay of proceedings.

It denied his application for a permanent stay of proceedings; which is an application to indefinitely stop a case from continuing due to an abuse of court process, impossibility of obtaining a fair trial or other matter which would make it grossly unfair for the case to continue.

Appeals

Mr Dawson appealed the decision to the NSW Criminal Court of Appeal which determined in June 2021 that permanent stays of proceedings are reserved only for the “most extreme cases”, and that Mr Dawson’s case did not fall into that category.

Mr Dawson then sought special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia; in other words, permission to have the matter heard in the highest court in the land.

That application has now been refused, and the trial is scheduled to commence on 9 May 2022.

Stays of proceedings

In New South Wales, the court’s power to issue a stay of proceedings is found in section 67 of the Civil Procedure Act 2005, under which the court can halt proceedings temporarily (until a particular day) or permanently.

Stay orders can be made unconditionally or on conditions set out by the court.

Grounds on which a stay application can be made include, but are not limited to:

  • Where there has been an abuse of process,
  • Where the court is clearly an inappropriate forum for the proceedings,
  • Where the parties are awaiting the determination of relevant proceedings in another court or tribunal,
  • Where there are concurrent criminal proceedings in the same jurisdiction,
  • To consolidate other proceedings into the one proceeding,
  • Where there are parallel proceedings in different jurisdictions,
  • Where proceedings would be a waste of costs,
  • Where an agreement has been made to arbitrate or mediate a civil matter,
  • Where there was a failure to pay legal costs in a civil matter which involved essentially the same claim,
  • Where a failure to pay legal costs of dismissed proceedings involved essentially the same claim,
  • Where a party failed to comply with a court or medical timetable, or to answer interrogatories,
  • Where there was a significant delay between the events giving rise to the cause of action and the commencement of proceedings, which delay has resulted in relevant evidence becoming unavailable or impoverished, and
  • Where it is demonstrated on the balance of probabilities that a fair trial would not be possible in the circumstances, such as where the defendant’s oral evidence went to a critical aspect but he or she is now unable to give evidence due, for example, to incapacity.

As the NSWCCA in Mr Dawson’s case found, permanent stays of proceedings are rarely granted. They are normally only granted where there has been an abuse of process or if it is impossible to obtain a fair trial in any circumstance, present or future.

The Dawson case

Lynette Dawson disappeared from Sydney in 1982.

At the time, she had two young children to Chris Dawson a high school teacher, and they lived in Baywater. In the day she disappeared, Lyn Dawson had made plans to meet her mother, but never showed up. Her body has never been found.

Mr Dawson, who is now 73 years old, and his identical twin brother played high profile rugby league in the early 1970s and were both representatives in the 1973 New South Wales Rugby League Club Championship winning team.

After their football careers ended, both went on to become physical education teachers.

Chris Dawson was a teacher at Cromer High School on the Northern Beaches where it’s alleged he groomed a 16 year old student named Joanne Curtis, who temporarily moved into the Dawson family residence in Bayview at Chris’ invitation.

Ms Curtis permanently moved into the home on 10 January, two days after Lynette’s disappearance.

Two Coronial Inquests find that Lynette Dawson was murdered

The disappearance of Lynette Dawson has been the subject of two coronial inquests, both of which determined she was murdered and recommended that criminal charges be laid.

However, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, Chris Chowdry, determined there was not enough evidence at the time to do so.

The case was again reviewed and Chris Dawson was extradited from Queensland, before being charged with murder in 2018. He has repeatedly protested his innocence.

The story was also the subject of a highly successful Apple podcast called ‘The Teachers’ Pet’ which Apple removed from download in respect of the pending trial which is scheduled to begin in May this year.

Given the likely considerable public interest and media interest in this trial, Justices Stephen Gageler and Michelle Gordon have issued a non-publication order in relation to the details of the hearing until the conclusion of the trial.

The order prohibits or restricts the information that will be shared with the general public, or sections of the general public, until the jury has reached a verdict and the trial has concluded.

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Authors

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Autumn 2021.

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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