Family Court Judge’s ruling overturned by Appeal Court as a ‘gross miscarriage of justice’

judge-salvatore-vasta

Judge Salvatore Vasta

A Brisbane judge who sentenced a father of two to jail for contempt of court in a family law case has been sharply criticised by Family Court appeal judges, who described his decision as an “affront to justice”.

Last December, Brisbane-based Judge Salvatore Vasta sentenced a man involved in a property dispute with his ex-wife to a maximum 12 months in jail for failing to disclose financial documents on time.

The man, who has two children aged five and nine, spent six days in a maximum-security prison.

He was released pending the outcome of an appeal on the decision.

In a ruling handed down earlier this month, the  overruled Judge Salvatore Vasta’s decision, with Justice Peter Murphy, Justice Michael Kent and Justice Steven Strickland declaring they were comfortably satisfied that “what occurred here in the making of the declaration and order for the husband’s imprisonment constituted a gross miscarriage of justice”.

“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 their ruling.

Judge Salvatore Vasta’s ruling was also roundly condemned by the Law Council of Australia.

“The Law Council is gravely concerned by the conduct of the Federal Circuit Court judge in this matter and the devastating impact of this case on both the unrepresented parties and their young children,” Law Council president Arthur Moses said.

“This case reinforces the fact that not only the outcome of a case but the very way in which family law matters are handled by the courts has direct, life-altering and irreversible consequences for the children and families concerned.”

Judge Vasta has been approached for comment.

‘That’s what I do’

During the initial court hearing, Judge Salvatore Vasta told the man that if he did not hand over the required documents on time, he should “bring your toothbrush”.

“If there isn’t the full disclosure there will be consequences, because that’s what I do,” Judge Vasta told the man.

“If people don’t comply with my orders there’s only one place they go … I don’t have any hesitation in jailing people for not complying with my orders.”

But the Family Court judges determined Judge Salvatore Vasta had “no factual foundation” for the order to imprison the man and he had no legal power to do so.

During the proceedings, the man’s wife told Judge Salvatore Vasta she did not want her former husband to go to jail.

She told Judge Salvatore Vasta that “we have kids together that I have to think about as well, that this affects the kids of the rest of their lives”.

Court merger concerns

Last year, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced plans to merge the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, promising it would ease the significant delays and costs for people stuck in the system.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is conducting a wide-ranging review of the system, which is due to be handed to the Federal Government next month.

Many lawyers have been critical of Mr Porter’s merger proposal, which would be the most significant shake-up of the sector since it was established in the 1970s, arguing any changes should wait until the ALRC delivers its findings.

Last October, Family Court Chief Justice John Pascoe told a law conference in Brisbane that family law had become increasingly complex.

“In my view, if legislation and the ALRC report do not assuage public concerns about the family law system, it must surely be time to consider a royal commission into family law,” Family Court Chief Justice John Pascoe said.

Bob Hawke’s Will To Be Legally Challenged By His Daughter

Bob-Hawkes-daughter-to-dispute-WillA legal brawl appears to be brewing between the daughter of former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke and his widow.

Rosslyn Dillon, Mr Hawke’s youngest daughter, has engaged lawyers to fight Blanche d’Alpuget over the division of his multimillion-dollar will, according to a report in The New Daily.

The website claims Ms Dillon and her two siblings, Sue Pieters-Hawke and Stephen Hawke, each received a payment of $750,000 in the days following their father’s death in May.

Ms d’Alpuget’s son, the artist Louis Pratt, also received the payment,

But Ms Dillon’s discovery that the remainder of Mr Hawke’s vast estate will go to his second wife has reportedly caused anger.

She has engaged the family law firm Tiyce & Lawyers with the intention of contesting the will, on the grounds that it provides inadequate family provisions, The New Daily reports.

Should she and Ms d’Alpuget be unable to reach an agreement, the matter could head to the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Following his time in politics, Mr Hawke was successful in business and his Sydney home in Northbridge was recently sold for $15 million.

Mr Hawke, Labor’s longest-serving PM, died on May 16 at the age of 89, just days before the federal election.

Mr Hawke married Ms d’Alpuget, his biographer with whom he’d had a relationship for some time, in 1995 after splitting from his first wife, Hazel.

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In Case I Unexpectedly Die – See My Fearless Last Wishes

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The Fearless Folder in ‘The Barefoot Investor for Families’ book by Australian author Scott Pape

Scott Pape from the Barefoot Investor has suggested that we all prepare a ‘fearless folder‘ in the event of our untimely death, so that our family will know all our expectations and social media details not found in a traditional Will.

Deidre, from Victoria, said she decided to put together a fireproof safe after a wrist injury left her unable to work, forcing her husband to take time off to look after their five young sons – all aged under six – while she recovered.

Her wrist has since healed and she has returned to work, but Deidre said she couldn’t help but wonder what would actually happen to her family if she wasn’t there.

So as suggested in the Barefoot Investor’s Barefoot Families book, she prepared a safe, which includes documents and her ‘fearless answers’ to a series of ‘important questions that would be asked’ if she were to die.

‘It’s about preparing for the worst so your family is financially protected. You can be perfectly healthy one minute, then be incapacitated the next,’ she said in “Mums Who Budget & Save.

“Last year I had a fall where I broke my wrist. I slipped on water on the bathroom floor and landed hard enough on it to need surgery and a plate to repair it. I am fine now, and was very lucky I didn’t bang my head, but it hit home how quickly things can change.

‘This begs the question, what happens to my family if something serious were to happen to me? In the case of my broken wrist, our income was seriously impacted as my husband had to take time off work to look after the kids, fortunately only for a fairly short period of time while my wrist healed.”

Deidre – who has five young boys, including two sets of twins – said she’s the ‘main breadwinner’ in her family.

“So if I were to be seriously injured or die suddenly, my family would be put in a very bad position, so it is very important that I be prepared,” she said.

She used a checklist from “The Barefoot Investor for Families” book by Australian author Scott Pape, to help her compile everything her husband and children needed.

Using a $79 waterproof, fireproof safe from Bunnings Warehouse, Deidre put together a folder of important documents and instructions for her family.

“I’m the main financial organiser in my family, if anything happened to me, figuring out all this stuff would be very tough for my husband, and sorting out a financial nightmare is the last thing a grieving person needs,” she said.

The “fearless answers” include “who will raise our kids if we both die?”, “at what age should the kids receive inheritance” and “what are my funeral wishes”.

Inside the safe, she added both her and husband’s wills, power of attorney, birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports and property paperwork.

She also included instructions for her funeral, such as the kind of memorial she wanted and details of her executor, accountant, lawyer and financial planner.

Deidre also put together the “big list”, which includes all her social media, super, banking accounts, and login details.

She included her net worth – a list of all assets and liabilities and details about her life insurance policy and income protection.

“I’ve made sure I’m insured for a large amount as I have a big family of young children to support. I have my husband as my binding death nomination on my super and he has me as his. You have to specifically ask for this,” she said.

The mother said she also wrote small letters to her husband and five sons.

“Just in case my death was sudden, so I have a chance to tell them how much I love them and how special they are to me,” she said.

Since organising her ‘fearless folder’, Deidre said she feels rest assured her family will be taken care of if she were to suffer an injury or die.

“This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever organised, I feel a sense of relief that this is done so my family is taken care of. I thought I’d share with others as it’s such a brilliant idea, every family needs to do this to protect their loved ones,” she said.

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