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Judge, government appeal $300k order for false imprisonment

A federal court judge found to have falsely imprisoned a man for contempt of court has filed an appeal.

user iconNaomi Neilson 02 October 2023 The Bar
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One month on from Justice Michael Wigney’s finding that he imprisoned a father of two on an “invalid” order, Judge Salvatore Paul Vasta has filed a notice of appeal in the Federal Court.

Following that outcome, various legal organisations spoke about the “profound implications” of the penalty.

The Commonwealth and Queensland government, which were both on the hook for part of the $310,000 legal bill awarded to the man, have also filed separate appeals.


There is no date set down as of yet.

Judge Vasta made the order in December 2018 in the then Federal Circuit Court to imprison the man for contempt of court over a failure to produce financial documents in a matrimonial case.

The man was handed a 12-month imprisonment sentence but served seven days in custody before the full bench of the Federal Court granted an appeal for the “gross miscarriage”.

Justice Wigney said Judge Vasta’s order contained “serious and fundamental issues” and found him guilty of gross procedure by denying the man “any modicum” of procedural fairness.

The order was found to be “invalid and of no legal effect” from the outset, meaning there was no “legal 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.