Freemen on the land
"Freemen on the land" are a loose group of people who claim that all statute law is contractual, and that such law is applicable only if an individual consents to be governed by it. They believe that they can therefore declare themselves independent of government jurisdiction, holding that the only "true" law is their particular interpretation of the term "common law". The "Freeman on the land" movement has its origins in various United States-based groups in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada soon after 2000. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers "sovereign citizen extremists" to be part of a domestic terrorist movement.
In the Canadian court case Meads v. Meads, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Associate Chief Justice John D. Rooke used the phrase "Organised Pseudolegal Commercial Arguments" (OPCA) to describe the techniques and arguments used by freemen in court describing them as frivolous and vexatious. There is no recorded instance of freeman tactics being upheld by a legal verdict; in refuting one by one each of the arguments used by one such litigant, "Rooke [ACJ] concluded [that] a decade of reported cases, many of which he refers to in his ruling, have failed to prove a single concept advanced by OPCA litigants."
"Freemen" believe that statute law is a contract, and that individuals can therefore opt out of statute law, choosing instead to live under what they call "common" (case) and "natural" laws. Under their theory, natural laws require only that individuals do not harm others, do not damage the property of others, and do not use "fraud or mischief" in contracts. They say that all people have two parts to their existence – their body and their legal "person". The latter is represented by the individual's birth certificate; some freemen claim that it is entirely limited to the birth certificate. Under this theory, a "strawman" is created when a birth certificate is issued, and this "strawman" is the entity who is subject to statutory law. The physical self is referred to by a slightly different name – for example "John of the family Smith", as opposed to "John Smith".
Many "Freemen" beliefs are based on idiosyncratic interpretations of admiralty or maritime law, which the Freemen claim governs the commercial world. These beliefs stem from fringe interpretations of various nautical-sounding words, such as ownership, citizenship, dock, or birth (berth) certificate. Freemen refer to the court as a "ship", the court's occupants as "passengers" and claiming that anyone leaving are "men overboard".
Freemen will try to claim common law (as opposed to admiralty law) jurisdiction by asking "Do you have a claim against me?" This, they contend, removes their consent to be governed by admiralty law and turns the court into a common law court, so that proceedings would have to go forward according to their version of common law. This procedure has never been used successfully.
Freemen often will not accept legal representation; they believe that to do so would mean contracting with the state. They believe that the United Kingdom and Canada are now operating in bankruptcy and are therefore under admiralty law. They believe that since the abolition of the gold standard, UK currency is backed not by gold but by the people (or the legal fiction of their persons). They describe persons as creditors of the UK corporation. Therefore, a court is a place of business, and a summons is an invitation to discuss the matter at hand, with no powers to require attendance or compliance.
Freemen believe that since they exist in a common law jurisdiction where equality is paramount and mandatory, the people in the government and courts are not above the law, and that government and court personnel therefore must obtain the consent of the governed. Freemen believe that those government employees who do not obtain consent of the governed have abandoned the rule of law. They believe this consent is routinely secured by way of people submitting applications and through acts of registration. They believe the public servants have deceived the population into abandoning their status as Freemen in exchange for the status of a 'child of the province' or 'ward of the state' allowing those children to collect benefits such as welfare, unemployment insurance, and pension plans or old age security.
Freemen believe that the government has to establish "joinder" to link oneself and one's legal person. If one is asked whether one is “John Smith” and one says that is so, one has established joinder and connected the physical and human persons. The next step is to obtain consent. Statutes are merely invitations to enter a contract, and are only legally enforceable if one enters into the contract consensually. Otherwise, statute laws are not applicable. Freemen believe that the government is constantly trying to trick people into entering into a contract with them, so they often return bills, notices, summons and so on with the message "No contract — return to sender".
A "notice of understanding and intent and claim of right" is a document used by Freemen to declare their sovereignty. The signed document, often notarised, is sent to the Queen and possibly other authorities such as the Prime Minister and police chiefs. It usually begins with the words "Whereas it is my understanding" and goes on to state their understanding of the law and their lack of consent to it.
The British publication Benchmark has asserted that Freemen's beliefs are based on misunderstandings and wishful thinking and have not been successful in court.
Meads v Meads
The Canadian case of Meads v Meads (2012 ABQB 571) comprehensively reviewed the freemen arguments from a legal standpoint.
Dennis Larry Meads of Edmonton, Alberta, stormed out of a Court of Queen's Bench hearing on June 8, 2012, related to his divorce and matrimonial property case. In response, Associate Chief Justice John D. Rooke wrote a lengthy and comprehensive 185-page judgment rejecting various freemen claims, grouping them with other pseudolegal arguments as "Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Arguments" (OPCA), specifically, in this case, Meads' Freeman on the Land claims, arguments and documents, saying that:
The bluntly idiotic substance of Mr. Mead’s argument explains the unnecessarily complicated manner in which it was presented. OPCA arguments are never sold to their customers as simple ideas, but instead are byzantine schemes which more closely resemble the plot of a dark fantasy novel than anything else. Latin maxims and powerful sounding language are often used. Documents are often ornamented with many strange marking and seals. Litigants engage in peculiar, ritual‑like in court conduct. All these features appear necessary for gurus to market OPCA schemes to their often desperate, ill‑informed, mentally disturbed, or legally abusive customers. This is crucial to understand the non-substance of any OPCA concept or strategy. The story and process of a OPCA scheme is not intended to impress or convince the Courts, but rather to impress the guru’s customer. [emphasis in original]
- Elizabeth Watson came to public attention in 2011 as a self-styled legal adviser for Victoria Haigh in a child custody case; she was given a nine-month prison sentence for contempt of court (suspended later when she purged her contempt). She had written "no contract" on court documents, denied the lawful authority of the proceedings, and used the "of the ..... family" format when referring to Ms Haigh and herself. (The custody case had concerned false allegations that the child's father was a paedophile.)
- Mark Bond of Norfolk, England, was arrested in 2010 for non-payment of tax, despite handing police a "notice of intent" stating that he was no longer a UK citizen. He told police that the notice had already been delivered to the Queen and the prime minister. He told the local paper: "Today I asked the judge to walk into the court under common law and not commercial law. If I had entered under commercial law it would prove that I accepted its law. I was denied my rights to go in there." He was sentenced to three months custody, suspended on condition that he pay off the debt at £20 a week.
- Bobby Sludds appeared in court in County Wexford in Ireland charged with various motoring offences including two counts of no insurance. Before the police began to give evidence, the accused handed in a letter stating he was not Mr Sludds but Bobby of the family Sludds and questioning the use of the word 'person' in the charge. He was given two suspended sentences and a fine of €670. (He had 24 previous convictions for motoring offences.)
- Wilfred Keith Thompson and two others were arrested by police in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, charged with breaking, entering and theft as well as firearms offences. Thompson had previously made headlines for informing City Hall, local police, Guelph MP Frank Valeriote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other officials he is "an autonomous being not controlled by others". One of his co-defendants, Trevor “Red” De Block, refused to identify himself to the court, though it was said that his criminal mug shot, computer records, tattoos and other information confirmed his identity. "I object," De Block said, adding that he was not the "rightful owner" of his name, but refusing to clarify or participate in legal proceedings. "I don’t bow down to bail [sic] . . . to false gods," he said, and rejected assistance from the appointed lawyer. Thompson and De Block were denied bail.
- Dean Marshall of Preston, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, was taken to court after he was found to be growing 26 cannabis plants in his garden shed. Claiming he was a Freeman on the Land and therefore not guilty, he then attempted to call up Queen Elizabeth II and David Cameron as his witnesses, although he was told that neither was available to attend. A jury at Hull Crown Court dismissed his claims and convicted him of conspiracy to produce cannabis for which he was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work. 
- Doug Jones of Pembroke Dock, Wales, spent 22 days in prison after refusing to take a breath test. Jones questioned the authority and jurisdiction of the court, asking to see the judge's 'Oath of Office' which resulted in a sentence of fourteen days for contempt of court. He was sentenced to a further seven days after failing to attend a second hearing, but pleaded guilty to the original charges, receiving an endorsement on his driving licence. His interest in the Freemen on the Land movement started after watching documentaries on conspiracy theories surrounding the September 11 attacks and London bombings. His solicitor, Phillipa Ashworth, stated “On this occasion, in hindsight he appreciates it was not the time to test out philosophical theories behind this approach to life, and in hindsight it isn’t something he would do again.”
- Gavin Kaylhem of Grimsby, England, wilfully refused to pay his council tax debts of £1,268.54 accrued between 2001 and 2008 and was sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment. He had claimed that he was a "Freeman" and thus had no contractual duty under common law to pay. He refused to co-operate with magistrates' questions.
Advice to professionals
Lawyers and notaries in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, have been warned by their professional bodies about dealing with freemen as clients. In particular, lawyers should be careful when stamping or notarising pseudo-legal documents that freemen typically use, so as not to create a perception of authority for such documents.
- Guardians of the Free Republics
- Redemption movement
- Rodolphus Allen Family Private Trust
- Social contract
- Sovereign citizen movement
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- John Kersey "The Freeman on the Land Movement: Grass Roots Libertarianism in Action" Libertarian Alliance Legal Notes, No. 50, 2011