In the latest decision criticising the conduct of Judge Salvatore Vasta, the Full Court of the Family Court said the judge engaged in “impermissible editing” by failing to include the threat made on February 6 last year when he published a written decision on April 29.
Judge Vasta “could not amend his oral reasons as he did”, the court said.
There appeared to be a “nexus” between the criticisms made of the judge in the earlier case “and the threat of imprisonment being edited out” in the later decision, the full court said.
In this case, Judge Vasta told the parents of three children that “unlike orders that some other judges make”, and unless there were “very good reasons” or other factors, “there really is only one place that people go if they breach my order”.
It was a place “where they will get at least [three] square meals a day, but there is not much else to recommend it”, Judge Vasta said.
Those comments did not appear in the written decision.
The father in the case succeeded on other grounds in having Judge Vasta’s orders overturned and the matter remitted for rehearing by a different judge.
Judge Vasta courted controversy last year after he jailed a father of two for a maximum of 12 months for contempt of court. He was blasted by the Full Court of the Family Court for committing a “gross miscarriage of justice”.
NSW has an independent Judicial Commission to investigate complaints about state-based judges and magistrates, but there is no federal equivalent.
Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said “it is essential to the protection of the rule of law that there be a strong and independent judiciary” that was separate to and not subject to review by the executive arm of government.
Complaints against the federal judiciary should be dealt with “separately in a stand-alone federal judicial commission established by a separate act of Parliament, possibly based on the model operating in NSW”, Ms Wright said.