Former high school teacher and rugby league player Chris Dawson yesterday was refused leave to appeal against the NSW Court of Appeal’s refusal to grant a permanent stay of his murder charge.
Dawson is accused of having murdered his wife Lynette Dawson 40 years ago. Lynette, 33, disappeared from their Bayview home on Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982, leaving behind their two young daughters Shanelle and Sherryn, then aged four and two.
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Appeals in the law are creatures of statute: Attorney-General v Sillem  EngR 352; (1864) 10 HLC 704 at 720-721, Mickelberg v The Queen  HCA 35, Deane J at , R v Ferguson; ex parte A-G (Qld)  QCA 227 at . In other words, they never existed at common law, but were instead created by legislation. Therefore, appeals can only be made and determined in accordance with statutory provisions and Court rules about appeals, and primary regard must be had to them. The “common law” of appeals is the case law of interpretation of such provisions.
The joint judgment of Gleeson CJ, Gummow and Kirby JJ in Fox v Percy (2003) 214 CLR 118 distinguished between four types of appeals:
“ Appeal is not, as such, a common law procedure. It is a creature of statute. In Builders Licensing Board v Sperway Constructions (Syd) Pty Ltd, Mason J distinguished between (i) an appeal stricto sensu, where the issue is whether the judgment below was right on the material before the trial court; (ii) an appeal by rehearing on the evidence before the trial court; (iii) an appeal by way of rehearing on that evidence supplemented by such further evidence as the appellate court admits under a statutory power to do so; and (iv) an appeal by way of a hearing de novo. There are different meanings to be attached to the word “rehearing”. The distinction between an appeal by way of rehearing and a hearing de novo was further considered in Allesch v Maunz. Which of the meanings is that borne by the term “appeal”, or whether there is some other meaning, is, in the absence of an express statement in the particular provision, a matter of statutory construction in each case.”
It is important for practitioners to understand the different types of appeals in order to be able to know the nature of each type, and therefore how they will be considered and determined. Such knowledge is a prerequisite for practitioners to appraise themselves of the prospects of success in such appeals they may act in.