The Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland (FLPA) made comment today in the following article in The Australian newspaper.
Court cases over family, relationships and property adjourned while Brisbane judges strike over risks to their judicial immunity
EXCLUSIVE By NICHOLAS FINCH and and RHIANNON DOWN
Multiple disputes over property, parenting and the definition of a “de facto relationship” could be on pause as a result of striking judges, a top family law group warns.
Four Queensland cases in the Federal and Family Court are understood to have been put on hold on Friday under “unusual” circumstances.
It comes after The Weekend Australian revealed a video conference on that same day with most of the 76 division-two judges of the Federal Circuit and Family Court, who were told that three jurists were boycotting some scheduled sittings while others had sent cases up the line to the Federal Court.
Members of the Family Law Practitioners Association of Queensland have told The Australian that four separate hearings listed for determination in division two of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia were vacated by the court’s own motion on Friday.
The four cases included disputes over a de facto relationship, parenting matters and three separate disputes over parties’ interests in property. The length of these hearings would have ranged from one to four days each.
Each case was meant to proceed over the next two weeks between four separate judges based in Queensland.
Those involved in the disputes have not yet been given revised dates for their hearings.
Queensland FLPA president Rebecca Horsley called the motion “unusual”, saying adjournments of court dates were more likely to be made by one or both parties involved rather than the court itself.
“Such a situation generally only arises in the event of a judicial officer being unavailable to hear a dispute,” she said, giving personal illness as an example.
Ms Horsley said the Queensland FLPA was concerned that these determinations might be being delayed “as a result of a continuing sense of uncertainty regarding the limits and extent of judicial immunity”, referencing the recent ruling against judge Salvatore Vasta.
Justice Vasta and the Queensland and federal government were ordered to pay $309,000 in damages to a man with the pseudonym of Mr Stradford over false imprisonment for contempt of court.
Justice Vasta has been ordered to pay $50,000 of these damages.
Judge Michael Wigney ruled that Justice Vasta was unable to rely on typical judicial immunity due to the nature of the case, claiming he had behaved like a character from “Alice in Wonderland” and he had displayed a “gross and obvious irregularity of procedure” in denying Mr Stradford procedural fairness.
Chair of the Centre for Public Integrity and former judge on the NSW Court of Appeal Anthony Whealy said a judge being sued personally would “put a spoke in the wheel of the justice system”.
“I think Justice Vasta’s behaviour was extraordinary and he deserves all the criticism he can get, but I still find it extraordinary that the law would allow him to be sued personally,” he said. “I think there will be some judges who get difficult cases where it’s not clear whether they are able to act, so some of them would say, ‘I’m not going to take the risk’ and get someone else to do it.”