Freemen on the land
"Freemen-on-the-land" are a loose group of individuals with the belief that they are bound by statute laws only if they consent to those laws. They believe that they can therefore declare themselves independent of the government and the rule of law, holding that the only "true" law is their own interpretation of "common law". This belief has been described as a conspiracy theory. Freemen are active in English-speaking countries: the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
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 in a court of law; in refuting one by one each of the arguments used by Meads, Rooke 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-on-the-land are also called "Freemen-of-the-land" and the "Freemen movement". They may be an offshoot of the Sovereign citizen movement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) classifies sovereign citizen extremists as domestic terrorists, and states that these groups may refer to themselves as "freemen".
"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 may claim that those 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. They may believe that the government controls secret bank accounts in their name as part of this theory, which may be accessed to pay off debts.
[This] strategy might give lenders pause, of course, because litigating against awkward characters isn't much fun. But given how flimsy the freeman legal arguments are, the pause needn't be long. I've seen a transcript of a hearing in which a debtor tried to rely on the freeman defence. It was over as soon as the judge asked (I can imagine the withering tone), "Are you planning to persist in this defence, Mr Jones?"
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.
- Dennis Larry Meads of Edmonton, Alberta, stormed out of a hearing in the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta on 8 June 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]
- In a subsequent ruling on another OPCA case, Gauthier v. Starr 2016 ABQB 213, Justice Rooke noted that, following the ruling, Meads had abandoned OPCA strategies and concluded the litigation in an orderly fashion.
- 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 (later suspended). She had defaced court documents by writing the words "no contract" and otherwise refused to accept or acknowledge the authority of a court of law, by amongst other things refusing to respond to the written legal notices or other correspondences from the court, and styled and addressed herself and Ms Haigh in the irregular fashion as "Elizabeth of the Watson family" and "Victoria of the Haigh family" respectively, instead of their names in the normal and usual mode of rendering.
- 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, Holderness, near Hull, East 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 (the prime minister) 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 upon entering into a good behavior bond for two years, and was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.
- Doug Jones of Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, 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, North East Lincolnshire, 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.
- Mandeep Sandhu of Tividale, Sandwell, West Midlands, was stopped by police while driving a car that was insured to a woman. He refused to give his details to the officers, saying that to do so would mean "entering into a contract he could not afford to fulfil". He refused to co-operate at the police station and when brought before Sandwell Magistrates' Court, in October 2015, Sandhu was convicted of driving without insurance and obstructing police and was also found in contempt of court. He was sentenced to 14 days in prison for the contempt, and ordered to pay £330 in fines for the insurance charge with court costs and had 6 points added to his licence. A spokesperson for West Midlands Police said:
The whole process meant that a simple matter of driving without insurance took up hours of police time – and ultimately a stint behind bars after being convicted of contempt of court while defending himself. We hope this case acts as a warning that to obstruct the police and the courts is not a wise move.
- Errol Denton, a live blood analysis practitioner, was charged with offences under the Cancer Act 1939. At Westminster Magistrates' Court, he used a Freeman defence. Since both the prosecution and the defence were rare, it was reported in the press. On March 20, 2014 he was convicted on all nine counts and fined £9,000 plus around £10,000 in costs.
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 have been advised to be careful not to stamp or notarise the pseudo-legal documents that freemen typically use, so as not to create a perception of authority for such documents.
American police, both speaking personally and as official guidance, have provided advice to law enforcement on dealing with the similar sovereign citizen movement. These have noted the need for caution after a case in which two policemen were murdered by a sovereign citizen during a traffic stop.
- Christian Identity
- Guardians of the Free Republics
- Redemption movement
- Rodolphus Allen Family Private Trust
- Social contract
- CBC (29 February 2012). "Freemen movement captures Canadian police attention". CBC News.
- Wagner, Adam. "Freemen of the dangerous nonsense". UK Human Rights Blog. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
- Wittmeier, B (27 September 2012). "Edmonton divorce case prompts justice to dissect "pseudolegal" arguments". Edmonton Journal. Archived from the original on 9 October 2012.
- University of Calgary Faculty of Law
- Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (CanLII), Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, 18 September 2012, para. 77
- Bizzle, Legal (18 November 2011). "The freeman-on-the-land strategy is no magic bullet for debt problems". theguardian.
- Canadian Lawyer magazine
- School of Government, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (September 2012), A Quick Guide to Sovereign Citizens (PDF), archived from the original (pdf) on July 5, 2015, retrieved July 5, 2015
- School of Government, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (September 2012), A Quick Guide to Sovereign Citizens (PDF), archived from the original (pdf) on May 3, 2015, retrieved July 5, 2015
- "Sovereign Citizens A Growing Domestic Threat to Law Enforcement". Domestic Terrorism. Federal Bureau of Investigation. September 11, 2011. Archived from the original on December 10, 2011. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
- "Nonsense or loophole?", Benchmark, Issue 57, February 2012, p 18
- Anonymous (name withheld by request; a solicitor of England and Wales; wrote with permission pseudonymously as "Legal Bizzle"). "The freeman-on-the-land strategy is no magic bullet for debt problems". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
- Gauthier v Starr, 2016 ABQB 213 (CanLII), Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, 14 April 2016, para. 59
- Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and Elizabeth Watson and Victoria Haigh, Royal Courts of Justice, 22 August 2011,  3 FCR 422,  Fam Law 1194,  EWHC B15 (Fam)
"‘Investigator’ jailed for report as court contempt compromised well-being of child", The Star (Sheffield), 24 August 2011
- David Bale, "Norfolk tax dodger arrested... after writing to Queen", Norwich Evening News, 3 December 2010
- "'Bobby of the family Sludds' may be jailed", Wexford People, 14 September 2011
- Vik Kirsch, "Security tight as suspects in Guelph break-in case appear in bail court", Guelph Mercury, 5 March 2012
- "Cannabis-grower tried to call Queen and Prime Minister as witnesses in 'bizarre' trial", Hull Daily Mail, 16 August 2012
- "Magna Carta beliefs lead to 22 days jail for Pembrokeshire businessman who refused 'to be governed'", Western Telegraph, 7 September 2012
- North East Lincolnshire Council, "Council tax evader jailed for 30 days"
- "'Freeman-of-the-Land' driver jailed for contempt of court". The Birmingham Mail. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
- "'Freeman' driver who refused to talk to police jailed". Express & Star. 13 October 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2016.
- "‘Freeman on the land’ causes chaos in court", Edinburgh Evening News, 11 March 2015
- "Harley Street practitioner claimed he could cure cancer and HIV with lifestyle changes and herbs, court hears", Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2013
- Mendick, Robert (30 March 2014). "Duped by the 'blood analyst' who says he can cure cancer". Daily Telegraph.
- "Woodford Green Harley Street worker handed 19k court bill after claiming he could cure cancer and HIV with lifestyle change", Eastern Daily Press, 20 March 2014
- "Law Society of Alberta issues warning to lawyers after bizarre Calgary 'Freeman on the Land" case resolved", Calgary Sun, 28 September 2013
- The Law Society of British Columbia: Practice Tips: The Freeman-on-the-Land movement
- Finch & Flowers. "Sovereign Citizens: A Clear and Present Danger". Police Magazine. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
- Greenberg, Moe. "10 tips and tactics for investigating Sovereign Citizens". PoliceOne. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
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- Adam Wagner, "Freemen of the dangerous nonsense", legalweek.com, 16 November 2011
- Legal Bizzle, "The freeman-on-the-land strategy is no magic bullet for debt problems", The Guardian, 18 November 2011