‘Profound implications’ following judge’s $300m penalty for false imprisonment
Major legal organisations have recently commented on a Federal Court decision to penalise a judge, the state of Queensland, and the Commonwealth for falsely imprisoning a man.
Federal Circuit Judge Salvatore Vasta, along with the Commonwealth and Queensland government, was ordered to pay the man almost $310,000 for handing him a 12-month jail sentence on an “invalid” order and without the appropriate jurisdiction.
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Justice Michael Wigney of the Federal Court said Judge Vasta was guilty of denying the man “any modicum” of procedural fairness.
While not commenting directly on the case, Law Council of Australia president Luke Murphy said judicial immunity – which Judge Vasta ran his defence on – is “intrinsically related to the principles of judicial independence and critically important to our legal system”.
Although serving an important role in ensuring a judge exercises the correct functions, there are “well established limits”, including where that a “judicial officer knowingly acts beyond their powers”.
“There is a need for certainty and consistency in the approach to immunity and accountability of judicial officers across Federal courts and tribunals, noting that legislation in multiple jurisdictions addresses these issues,” Mr Murphy said.
He added that the recent decision highlighted a “need for further consideration to be given to legislative certainty” in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.
“Importantly, judicial immunity does not mean a lack of accountability for the exercise of judicial functions,” Mr Murphy said.
“The exercise of judicial power carries enormous responsibility and the effects of judicial decisions on parties can be profound.”
The Australian Judicial Officers Association (AJOA) was also reluctant to comment directly on Judge Vasta’s case but did comment that the decision may have “potentially profound implications for certain members” of the association.
“The AJOA is carefully considering any implications for its members and, in that respect, reviewing which Australian courts, if any, may not afford immunity to judicial officers,” president Justice Michael Walton said.