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Queensland man awarded $300K in damages after false imprisonment

Queensland man awarded $300K in damages after false imprisonment

Co-authored by: Grace Jolly


  • Queensland man, Mr Stradford, was sentenced 12 months imprisonment after failing to produce financial documents in a marital case.
  • Despite suing for $2 million in damages, Mr Stradford has been awarded almost $310K by the full bench of the Federal Circuit and Family Court after what they have said is a “gross miscarriage of justice”.
  • It was rejected that Judge Vasta was protected by immunity afforded to inferior Court judges as it was found he acted without jurisdiction when making the order.

In a recent Court case, a Queensland man found himself falsely imprisoned for 12 months after a failure to produce documents. This case was found to have contained “serious and fundamental issues” for a family law case.

The man ultimately sued the Judge who sentenced him to a term of imprisonment, Judge Vasta. When before the Full Bench of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, this “gross miscarriage of justice” was shared between the Queensland federal judge, the state of Queensland and the Commonwealth, ordering that the man be paid $309,450 in damages for the false imprisonment. This is the first time in Australia that a judge has been successfully sued.

This case is a clear demonstration of the important questions surrounding the role of procedural fairness in our judicial system, the duty of judges and the full and frank disclosure requirement within the Family Law Act 1975.

The initial injustice

Mr Stradford was initially found guilty of contempt of Court in 2018 after a failure to produce financial documents in a family law property settlement case. These documents were found to have contained “serious and fundamental” issues to the case.

Although being sentenced to 12-months imprisonment, Mr Stradford only served seven (7) days, however this did not come without a cost. Damages were sought by Mr. Stradford of $2.5 million claiming that due to a traumatic experience in the custody experience he can no longer work more than 20 hours a week. This was taken into consideration when awarding damages.

Although he was not awarded the $2.5 million, he was awarded $309,450 by the Full Bench of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

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Procedural fairness

In Australia, procedural fairness is a fundamental legal principle which seeks to ensure fairness and justice is upheld when conducting judicial proceedings. A set of rules and principles must be followed to guarantee that all individuals are given an opportunity to a fair and just trial.

By imposing this sentence, Judge Vasta was guilty of denying Mr Stradford “any modicum”, in other words minimal, procedural fairness. This order was found to be both “invalid” and of “no legal effect”, giving it no proper or lawful jurisdiction for the 12-month sentence.

Justice Wigney further stated that the contempt order given by Justice Wigney was “infected by a number of serious and fundamental errors”, and that he had “pre-judged the outcome” and that “imprisonment was a fait accompli”, in other words pre decided before hearing it.

Claim to immunity

Judge Vasta attempted to claim judicial immunity to protect himself from his miscarriage of justice. This attempt was rejected by the Full Court stating that such reasoning could not apply to inferior courts. They furthered this by saying that the protection afforded to inferior courts can be lost when a judge acts without or in excess of jurisdiction.

Although Judge Vasta was well within his jurisdiction to hear this matrimonial case, he was without or in excess of jurisdiction when providing his decision.

Full and Frank Disclosure

Full and frank disclosure is the requirement that all parties to a family law dispute need to provide one another with all relevant information to any issues within the case. The Family Law Act 1975 requires that parties uphold and maintain an ongoing duty of full and frank disclosure to each other but also to the Court.

If you fail to disclose the Court may:

  • Refuse to allow that information to be used;
  • All or part of your case may be dismissed;
  • Order costs against you;
  • Fine or imprison you based on contempt for not disclosing or breaching your undertaking.

In the context of Mr Stradford’s case, by not providing the relevant financial documents it was a violation of the requirements of full and frank disclosure. However, due to Judge Vasta not adequately addressing the issue and requirements of full and frank disclosure, his decision to impose 12 months imprisonment upon Mr Stradford was given with improper consideration and did not give Mr Stradford a reasonable opportunity to provide the Court with the information.

Overall, this case highlighted the importance of procedural fairness, full and frank disclosure but also judicial authority accountability. From the wrongful imprisonment Mr Stradford is suffering long term medical ramifications including post-traumatic stress. This case is a demonstration of upholding accountability but also ensure procedural fairness is being consistently applied in decision-making.

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Lara Menon - Criminal Lawyers Campbelltown

Lara Menon joined the Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers team in August 2018, working within our Criminal and Family Law teams. Her swift advancement from Paralegal, Law Graduate, Lawyer, Senior Lawyer and most recently, Senior Associate in February 2022, is a testament to her astute legal skills and commitment to client service excellence.

Earlier in 2019, Lara was selected by the NSW Law Society to undertake an internship with the NSW Coroner’s Court, working as a Judge’s Associate for the Deputy State Coroner.

For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:

Lara Menon
Senior Associate
1300 268 887


Grace Jolly

Grace joined the Coutts team in August 2023 as a Paralegal working in the Criminal & Family Law teams, from our Camden office.

Grace is currently in her 2nd year studying a Bachelor of Laws and Business at Wollongong University.

She is passionate about the law and looks forward to learning new things. At the completion of her degree, she looks forward to practicing as a Lawyer at Coutts.

For further information please don’t hesitate to contact:

Grace Jolly
1300 268 887

Contact Coutts today.

This blog is merely general and non-specific information on the subject matter and is not and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Coutts is not responsible for any cost, expense, loss or liability whatsoever to this blog, including all or any reliance on this blog or use or application of this blog by you.

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