(Freemen of the land, and whether you can ‘jump out of the system)
When I was an impressionable teenager, computers were all the rage. I had my own computer, and through exposure to films such as “Wargames” (would you like to play a game Y/N? Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War”)
I and many of my peers were under the impression that we could, if only we had the right password or combination of keystrokes, seize control of computers used by corporations and get them to do our bidding.
[Actually, I probably would have been a lot richer, if much more nervous of sirens, had I continued in that belief and learned how to hack properly, but that’s by the by]
Anyway, one of the big rumours of my adolescence, was that if you went upstairs in Boots, where there were test computers set up to play about on (99% of the time, they were used in this sophisticated code :- 10. Print “Steven is Skill” (or “Steven Smells” depending on whether or not you were Steven, or an adversary of Steven) 20 Goto 10) and typed in the right combination of numbers and letters, you would get into the program that Boots used to operate their shop. You could turn the lights on and off, make the escalators run backwards, all sorts.
Nobody ever managed it [because it was b***ocks], but I can quite see the appeal that it held for me, thinking that there was a passport to all sorts of joys and benefits, if only you knew exactly the right sort of word or phrase to use.
[Probably part of the appeal of Harry Potter, is that we all still think even as a sensible adult that we could use magic, if only someone taught us how to do it… perhaps that’s just me. In case you are in any doubt, I would use my magical or superpowers for evil]
Anyway, rambling lead in over, onto the actual topic, which is the Freeman of the Land movement. This crops up now and then in care cases – invariably amongst males of a certain age (young enough to be able to use the internet, but too old to know that you should take 98% of what is on the internet with a scoop of salt).
I have had colleagues say “This is a really unusual letter I’ve just received”, looked at it and seen that it is at right angles to reality, and been able to explain to them that they are dealing with a Freeman of the Land.
So, just in case you too have come across such a thing and hadn’t recognised it, this is a guide to identification. I can’t offer you a solution, but at least you will know what you are dealing with.
The Freeman of the Land movement effectively believe that you can avoid any unpleasant consequences of the law, or the Court system, by simply deciding that you exist outside the law, that you “step outside the system” by asserting that the law does not apply to you.
A common ‘trick’ to this is to mentally split oneself in two and to talk about yourself not as Dougal Zebedee but “The official representative of the legal fiction known as Dougal Zebedee” or “Dougal of the family Zebedee” or “The flesh and blood man Dougal of the Zebedee family” or so forth.
The belief here is that the law only applies to Dougal Zebedee, but you aren’t him, he is just a legal fiction. You are someone else, and thus the consequences that would come Dougal’s way are nothing to do with you.
That sort of convoluted way of referring to yourself in the third person is not, in the context of legal proceedings, an indication that you’ve been watching rather too much Game of Thrones, but that you are a Freeman of the Land or that you have stumbled across a website with some ideas that you thought were awfully clever.
There’s some clever (if misguided) stuff going on with Freemen of the Land arguments, most of it downright peculiar, but it is so different to the arguments that one normally hears about the facts of a case or different interpretations of a piece of statute that it is quite easy to be flummoxed by it. When someone starts with Magna Carta and that we are all governed by admiralty law, that’s not the sort of stuff that lawyers or judges are accustomed to dealing with, so there tends to be something of a goldfish response.
It reminds me quite a lot of the people who put huge amounts of effort into designing perpetual motion machines, many of whom have provided what seems like very competent and capable science to explain how their machine works; but who lack the fundamental underpinning of physics that would have told them that the device can’t possibly work and it is a waste of time trying.
[Annoyingly, I can’t recall the name of the physicist who every time he received such a proposal sent in reply a stock postcard saying “your invention, in order to work would breach at least one of the three following Laws of Thermodynamics, almost certainly the Second, and thus does not work”… So I’ll just quote Arnold Sommerfield, who is spot on “Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don’t understand it, but by that time you are so used to it, it doesn’t bother you any more.” ]
Some of the arguments deployed by Freemen of the Land as to why the law doesn’t apply to them (or sometimes to anyone at all) include for example :-
A UK law isn’t valid until it is approved by the Monarch, and the Queen did not swear the correct oath at the time of her Coronation so she is not legally the Queen, therefore no laws made under the Reign of Queen Elizabeth have any legal status.
The Act of Union was unlawful and therefore any law postdating the Act of Union is also unlawful
We are all legally dead and the laws don’t apply to the dead
The fact that a registration document on a car refers to the ‘registered keeper’ means that there is no concept of ownership in English law
But all at their core being the concept that the law does not apply to this person in question – other ready ways to recognise a Freeman of the Land are references to Magna Carta, demanding to see a Judge’s qualifications and certificate of office, references to maritime or admiralty law.
There is not, so far as I am aware, a judgment in the family Courts which deals with Freemen of the Land or gives any guidance on how their arguments should be considered. [There have been some cases in which there has been a flavour of it, but the reported judgments don’t get into any detail]
The Court of Appeal have just dealt with an appeal where the mother had been deploying these arguments Re J (Child) 2013
but backed off at the appeal hearing
- The paperwork reflected that, as had also been the case in front of Judge Bromilow, M and IM considered that they were claiming to proceed under “Common Law Jurisdiction and Authority”. They considered that this affected the proceedings in a number of ways. For example, in M’s skeleton argument for the appeal she said, speaking of the proceedings at first instance, that:
“we established Common Law Jurisdiction prior to the hearing and Mr Bromilow confirmed he was on his Oath before the hearing began. Therefore, as a Court de Jure was in effect, no consent means Mr Bromilow had no authority”
Another feature was that M treated the name by which she would normally be known as her “legal fiction” and insisted that she be addressed by a rather differently formulated version of it. Furthermore, she and IM did not consider they were bound by orders to which they did not consent.
- The local authority submitted to us that M’s then adherence to this notion of Common Law Jurisdiction and Authority had contributed to the case being challenging to manage. I have no difficulty in accepting that submission. The judge described the material sent to the court by M by way of evidence as “voluminous” (§19 of the judgment) and that description is corroborated by the bundles supplied to us, containing both the original material that formed part of the care proceedings and new material generated for the appeal.
- M freely acknowledged to us that she had been under IM’s influence and had developed misguided beliefs. She put this down to her vulnerability following an accident she had had, about which I shall say something later. She accepted that her reference to “Common Law” was wholly inappropriate and she said she could understand why objection had been taken to IM. She made a prepared oral submission in support of her appeal which was in a distinctly different tone from that adopted in her written submissions and in which her former beliefs played no part. She also abandoned some of her grounds of appeal. This was sensible given that they could not have succeeded. The effect of M’s new constructive approach was to enable us to concentrate on the issues that required determination.
That meant that the Court of Appeal didn’t need to give judgment on the mother’s previous bold submissions that a Judge has no power over her and that she is a legal fiction. That’s a shame for me, as I think a judgment about this whole concept is long overdue, but never mind.
So at the moment, the best approach will be to gently and politely explain that the magic tricks don’t actually work, that the Court will eventually find that the law does apply to them, and that it would be better to make the arguments based on the merits of their case, shedding any nonsense about Magna Carta, the Act of Union or maritime law. The Judge will listen to those arguments, and if they are made well, may agree with them.
There’s a very nice retort in the Canadian authority I link to later
You cannot identify one instance where a court has rolled over and behaved as told. Not one. Your spells, when cast, fail.
I would just look at it this way :-
If Ian Huntley had gone to criminal trial and said in his defence “Yes, the legal fiction known as Ian Huntley murdered two children, but he is just a fictional legal construct, and the person speaking now is Ian of the family Huntley and I am not responsible and the Homicide Act does not apply to me, let me go”
Do you think he would now be a free man?
That’s a fairly decent test to how the Court is going to look upon your Freeman of the Land arguments. Honestly, truly, there hasn’t been a case in which these arguments have been deployed and the Court has just rolled over and said “hey, it turns out we are powerless against this guy”
[If you want chapter and verse on how the Canadian Court dealt with someone running these arguments, and provides a dissertation on the various techniques and devices and how the Canadian Courts have rejected each and every one of them, each and every time they have been deployed
I would welcome something similar in English law, for the benefit of Judges who have to tackle this on a piecemeal basis.
For some of the background on this piece, I am very grateful to a number of law bloggers who write in other fields, and particular to Adam Wagner’s UK Human Rights blog who pulls a lot of it together here [His title is a quotation from the above judgment] :-