Controversial judge slammed for mum's prison sentence
A CONTROVERSIAL Brisbane judge is in hot water again for unjustly sentencing a mother-of-three to jail time and being "unnecessarily intimidatory" towards her in a Family Court case.
In the latest of a string of successful appeals against Judge Salvatore Vasta, the Full Court of the Family Court said he denied the self-represented mother procedural fairness, and made disparaging remarks and "troubling statements'' about her. The three judges criticised Judge Vasta for inappropriately interfering with the mother's evidence and cross-examination of the father at the trial.
The Full Court set aside the judge's February findings, the mother, a teacher aide, had committed three contraventions of parenting orders.
The judges also set aside the "plainly excessive'' sentence of seven days in jail, suspended for two years.
It is the latest in a series of appeal decisions in which Judge Vasta's judgments and his behaviour in court have been heavily criticised. He recently agreed to stand down from administrative duties and receive "mentoring".
The mother's appeal had been supported by the father, who had asked that the mother, who had custody of their children, not be jailed, but instead be placed on a bond.
Both submitted that the decision and orders were "affected by manifest, unrectifiable errors'', the outcome was unjust, contrary to law and must be set aside.
Judge Vasta had found the mother had not consulted the father prior to enrolling their youngest child, then 10, at two schools and applying for a scholarship. He also found she had contravened parenting orders by not signing documents for the children's passports to be renewed.
The Full Court found the judge's findings were incorrect. Judge Vasta's disparaging remarks about the mother had no basis in evidence, the judges said.
He had allowed the father to rely on inadmissable evidence and prejudged what sentence should be imposed.
"The primary judge's approach to sentencing the mother is emblematic of his Honour's failures to afford the mother procedural fairness and a fair trial,'' the Full Court said.
Judge Vasta had also been "unnecessarily intimidatory'' of the mother, who had been representing herself in the first contravention application she had faced.
The Full Court said Judge Vasta did not provide reasons for deciding that no other sentence but imprisonment was appropriate.
In another case earlier this year, the Full Court of the Family Court overturned Judge Vasta's decision to jail a father-of-two for a maximum of 12 months, for contempt of court in family law proceedings.
DECISIONS UNDER FIRE - A TIMELINE OF APPEALS
August, 2018: Judge Vasta's decision in a property settlement case was set aside on appeal and costs paid to the Commonwealth, with a new hearing ordered by a judge "other than Judge Vasta".
February, 2019: A decision by Judge Vasta was partially overturned after he was found to have restrained a father from making further applications to the court without the power to do so.
February, 2019: The Full Court of the Family Court found on appeal that Judge Vasta's process was "so devoid of procedural fairness" it was "an affront to justice". In that case, he sentenced a father to 12 months' prison for contempt, telling him "I hope you brought your toothbrush".
February, 2019: The Full Court of the Family Court overturned a decision by Judge Vasta in which he ordered a same-sex couple to have their child baptised.
February, 2019: An appeal found Judge Vasta denied natural justice to a father in a parenting case.
July, 2019: Judge Vasta was found to have denied a man a fair trial when he jailed him for 12 months for contempt of court. He was found to have put unfair questions to the man.
August, 2019: The Full Court of the Federal Court ruled Judge Vasta denied a man a fair hearing and was "frequently aggressive, rude and overbearing'. The court set aside Judge Vasta's decision.
October, 2019: The Full Court finds Judge Vasta denied a self-represented mother procedural fairness, and made disparaging remarks about her.