No title, From: The Sunday Mail (Qld)
No title, From: The Sunday Mail (Qld)

Taxpayers slugged for judge’s dud decisions

THE Attorney-General has declined to comment on a Federal Circuit Court judge, who has been criticised on some recent appeals that so soundly overturned his judgments that taxpayers had to pick up the court costs.

In one case, where a father of two was sentenced to 12 months' prison for contempt, the Family Court on appeal found Judge Sal Vasta's process was "flawed from the outset" and "so devoid of procedural fairness" it was "an affront to justice".

There have been four appeals against cases of Judge Vasta since August where the Commonwealth has been ordered to pay the court costs.

A senior Queensland legal practitioner said it was "highly unusual" for the courts to order costs certificates, where the Commonwealth pays court costs.

Attorney-General Christian Porter declined to comment on Judge Vasta.

In once case, Judge Vasta sentenced a husband to 12 months prison for contempt for an alleged failure to produce documents in a property dispute.

During the original hearing told the husband the contempt case would proceed, "so I hope you brought your toothbrush".

The Family Court appeal judgment, delivered by Justices Steven Strickland, Peter Murphy and Michael Kent on February 15, said the process had been "flawed from the outset".

"We are driven to conclude that the processes employed by the primary judge were so devoid of procedural fairness to the husband, and the reasons for judgment so lacking in engagement with the issues of fact and law to be applied, that to permit the declaration and order for imprisonment to stand would be an affront to justice," they stated in the judgment.

The appeal judgment noted the wife, despite being involved in the contested property proceedings, asked on two occasions that the husband not be sent to jail.

"We are comfortably satisfied, for the reasons given, that what occurred here in the making of the declaration and order for the husband's imprisonment constituted a gross miscarriage of justice," the judgment stated.

In another appeal judgment, delivered on August 10 last year, orders of Judge Vasta were set aside, the Commonwealth ordered to pay costs and a re-hearing by a judge "other than Judge Vasta" was ordered.

It was a property settlement case where there was a question whether a de facto relationship existed.

Family Court appeal judges, Justices Peter Murphy, Michael Kent and Murray Aldridge, found Judge Vasta had failed to provide procedural fairness and made errors of law.

The Australian Financial Review reported to further appeal judgments, delivered on February 21, in which costs certificates were delivered.

In one case, it was reported Judge Vasta wrongly ordered a same-sex couple to baptise their child.

In another appeal judgment, delivered February 12, the Family Court partially overturned a decision of the judge which restrained a father from making further applications to the court obtaining leave to do so.

The appeal judges stated no party had sought the order, which was made without notice to the father, though no cost certificate was issued in this case.

"Furthermore, the order does not indicate the source of power relied on, and as his Honour failed to give reasons for it, it is impossible to inferentially establish the source of power which his Honour thought could be utilised," it stated.