Judge, Commonwealth to pay man $300k for false imprisonment
A federal judge, the state of Queensland, and the Commonwealth have been ordered to pay just under $310,000 in damages for the false imprisonment of a man on an “invalid” order.
Judge Salvatore Paul Vasta’s order in the then Federal Circuit Court to imprison a father of two in December 2018 for contempt of court after he failed to produce financial documents in a matrimonial case was found to have contained “serious and fundamental issues”.
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The man, who was given the pseudonym Mr Stradford, was handed a 12-month prison sentence but served seven days in custody before the full bench of the Federal Court overturned the “gross miscarriage”.
On Wednesday morning (30 August), Justice Michael Wigney of the Federal Court said Judge Vasta was guilty of gross procedure by denying Mr Stradford “any modicum” of procedural fairness.
The order was found to be “invalid and of no legal effect” from the outset, meaning there was no “lawful justification” for imprisonment.
Judge Vasta’s defence that he was protected by immunity afforded to inferior court judges was rejected by Justice Wigney, who found Judge Vasta acted without jurisdiction when he made the order.
Queensland and the Commonwealth’s defence that the order was valid until the full bench set it aside was also dismissed.
Justice Wigney said the complexity of the case and defences required the court to consider “almost four centuries of case law”.
Mr Stradford’s financial evidence fell apart during the trial, with Justice Wigney finding he was not satisfied that the man had lost as much as he said he had due to the false imprisonment.
Mr Stradford had been suing for $2 million.
There were also issues about the medical issues Mr Stradford said he suffered from, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, Justice Wigney awarded Mr Stradford $309,450 in damages.