What is a Stay of Proceedings?

A stay of proceedings refers to the courts discretionary capacity to halt proceedings permanently, indefinitely or to a specified date, as to avoid undue or unfair circumstances. Namely, these will occur when the court feels there has been some abuse of the court’s processes. Abuse of the court can be the result of jurisdictional conflict, questionable material facts or vexatious litigants. Regardless, the goal of the court in these circumstances is to maintain the integrity of the law. Here we breakdown the circumstances in which a stay of proceedings are actionable.

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Issue of jurisdiction

In these circumstances, the defendant will make an application to the court requesting a stay of proceedings on the grounds of forum non conveniens; a clearly inappropriate forum. The general test for this is based on the appropriateness of the court as to the location of the event, and whether the law has predetermined a jurisdiction.

However, the court will also consider:

  • Whether the plaintiff has historically invoked the jurisdiction in question successfully. Prima facie (on first impressions) if they have, they like can again.
  • The general principles associated with a stay of proceedings for vexatious behaviour (discussed further below). Namely, whether the choice of jurisdiction reflects oppressive or vexatious behaviour or is an abuse of court process. For example, selecting a court that is unnecessarily inconvenient for the respondent.
  • A balance of convenience for the defendant. However, even if the inconvenience of the jurisdiction outweighs its convenience, this test alone cannot justify a stay of proceedings. Likewise, it may be inconvenient, but not be unnecessarily so.

In maintaining due process, the court will try to accommodate any parties involved. However, as with all circumstances invoking a stay of proceedings, the court will exercise great caution in granting a stay.

No cause of action

This is a circumstance that is unlikely to occur, as actions with no due cause will be generally dismissed prior to proceedings. However, in circumstances where proceedings do commence, the court retains the power to stay either the entirety or the specific submission in question.

Vexatious litigants

Vexatious litigant refers to litigants who consistently begin legal actions without any sufficient grounds. However, the courts are hesitant to label an individual vexatious without significant cause.

In NSW, s 6 of the Vexatious Proceedings Act 2008 (NSW) outlines the circumstances in which a litigant is considered vexatious. These are:

  • The proceedings need to be an abuse of court processes, and
  • Harassing of the respondent, and
  • Without a reasonable ground, and
  • Conducted to achieve a wrongful purpose.

Along with these, the court will consider things like the plaintiff’s history and nature fo the claim.

In the event a court declares a litigant vexatious, they may then make an order to stay any current proceedings within the court. The extent of this stay will depend on the circumstance. For example, if it is one of several claims that is found to be vexatious, the court may decide to stay other claims until the situation is rectified.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, the goal of the court when staying proceedings is to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the courts. Hence, while they wish to avoid abuse of court processes, they will also try to provide an opportunity for justice where possible. It is a fine line.

If you have been served and feel that the accusations are unfair or an abuse of process, contact a lawyer to review the claims. It may be that the proceedings will be stayed by the court.

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