I have been told if I declare myself a ‘Freeman’ that I don’t have to do what the court says and the court has no authority over me?
You need to be very careful about this. Over a number of years the ‘Freeman on the land’ movement has gathered numbers in countries that rely on ‘common law’.
Freeman on the land are also known as FMOTL, FOTL, “Footle” or simply freeman.
In essence, they say that they do not choose to be governed by the laws of their countries and that the courts therefore cannot make orders which impact on them without their consent.
There are a number of people you can find on line who will offer to sell you information about how to ‘resist’ the courts by using their arguments about common law or ‘natural law’.
A commonly advised strategy is to claim that all interactions between the state, courts, and individuals are contracts and that any attempt by the court to encourage an individual to engage with court proceedings is the court trying to form a contract, which the individual can reject and thus go on to refuse even simple requests to sit, stand or acknowledge their identity within court proceedings.
Many ‘Freeman’ will not use the name on their birth certificate and refer to themselves, for example, as ‘John of the family Smith’ thus emphasising that they reject any attempt by the State to control them without their consent.
You can read more about the movement here.
We would be very interested to learn of any family case where ‘Freeman’ arguments have been deployed and have met with success because at present we are not aware of any such case – in fact the reverse appears to be true; ‘Freeman’ arguments appear to be positively detrimental to people’s chances of success in the family (or any other) court.
What is common law?
‘Common law’ is the law made by the courts over many hundreds of years. As the courts made decisions, their rulings in particular cases became useful indications of how to decide other arguments that followed and over time ‘common law’ developed as a collection of legal rules and principles that the courts would apply to all cases.
The doctrine of ‘precedent’ tries to ensure that the common law is applied in the same way by the different courts; the courts must follow the previous decisions of other courts unless it can be argued that the present situation can be ‘distinguished’ from other similar cases. Any decision of a more important court, such as the Court of Appeal, is binding upon any other lower court, so even if the lower court doesn’t agree with what the Court of Appeal said, they have to follow it.
What is statute law?
But as our society grew and got more complicated it required more central organisation and the role of the State as lawmaker increased in importance. Statute law is the law made by Acts of Parliament, such as the Children Act 1989. If a principle of common law conflicts with a clear statutory provision, the statute wins. However, common law is still relevant if there are any areas which haven’t been subject to statutory law, or if the statute is unclear or difficult to interpret.
The Myth of the Magna Carta
This plays an important role in Freeman philosophy and has been elevated to a status far beyond what it actually represents. Ironically, this myth has taken firm hold in the minds of ‘common people’ – who were excluded from the benefits of the Charter ‘by design for over 100 years’ – see Lord Mostyn below.
For further explanation about the Magna Carta, see this blog post or this one. In essence, It was a list of demands to King John in 1215 from various noblemen, to which he reluctantly agreed. Article XXIX is often cited in support of arguments that the courts or Parliament cannot force people to do things they have not consented to do:
NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
Mr Justice Mostyn offers a masterly and detailed examination of ‘Magna Carta and Access to Justice in Family Proceedings’ in a lecture in June 2015; demonstrating how the ‘myth’ developed of the Magna Carta as the ‘foundation document of the English constitution’ when instead, it was little more than a ‘technical catalogue of feudal regulations’, for example, that all fish- weirs were to be removed from the Thames and elsewhere. No-one was to be forced to build bridges across rivers. He cites Lord Sumption’s comments at para 29 and 30:
So when we commemorate Magna Carta, perhaps the first question that we should ask ourselves is this: do we really need the force of myth to sustain our belief in democracy? Do we need to derive our belief in democracy and the rule of law from a group of muscular conservative millionaires from the north of England, who thought in French, knew no Latin or English, and died more than three quarters of a millennium ago? I rather hope not… Yet Magna Carta matters, if not for the reasons commonly put forward. Some documents are less important for what they say than for what people wrongly think that they say. Some legislation has a symbolic significance quite distinct from any principle which it actually enacts. Thus it is with Magna Carta. It has become part of the rhetoric of a libertarian tradition based on the rule of law that represents a precocious and distinctively English contribution to western political theory. The point is that we have to stop thinking about it just as a medieval document. It is really a chapter in the constitutional history of seventeenth century England and eighteenth century America.
What are the ‘Freeman’ saying about the law?
But the typical freeman is not overly concerned by facts or history. The Magna Carta has become the lodestone of their philosophy that, as ‘freemen’ they do not have to obey ‘fictitious laws’ One Freeman describes it in this way (see Fmotl.com)
What is a Freeman-on-the-land? Well, it isn’t someone who remains outside the law. No-one is outside the law, so this is not a proposition for anarchy. But – it all depends on what is meant by ‘law’. And that’s the catch. What you have grown up to assume is ‘the law’ is not, in point of fact, the law. That’s The Grand Deception. Hitler was right: “If the lie is big enough, the People will fall for it”.Once you know the deception, and what the law actually is, you’ll realise how the wool has been firmly and deliberately pulled over your eyes, your parent’s eyes, and those of everyone you know.
The operation of the law is described in this way:
The law can give rise to a FICTION, but a fiction cannot give rise to a law. Consequently a legal fiction called THE GOVERNMENT has no power to make LAW. It is, in point of fact, BOUND BY LAW (like everyone else, and including all other legal fictions). PARLIAMENT is another legal fiction entity. Statutes created by Parliament are not, therefore, the LAW. They are ‘legislated rules for a society’ and ONLY APPLICABLE TO MEMBERS OF THAT SOCIETY. Join a different society, and you would be bound by a different set of rules. (If this were not the case it would be impossible to become, for example, a Freemason and be bound by the rules of Freemasonry). Statutes are nothing more than the Company Policy of THE UNITED KINGDOM CORPORATION, or THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA CORPORATION, etc. (See ‘society’, below)
Only a sovereign flesh and blood human being, with a living soul, has a Mind. Only something with a Mind is capable of devising a CLAIM. Legal fictions are soulless, and do not possess a distinct Mind. They cannot, therefore, in LAW, make a CLAIM.
Consequent to the foregoing, and since the Judiciary in a court de facto derives all its power from colour-of-law/Statutes, then no court de facto has any power over you as a sovereign human being, IN FACT (although, of course, they don’t bother to tell you!). A court de jure is the only kind of court to which you are subject under Common Law, and there are none of those left (unless you insist that the court operates de jure, by demanding a Trial by Jury. But they will attempt to resist that with every fibre in their ‘corporate’, soulless, ‘bodies’).
What is the problem with using Freeman arguments in a family court?
The family court can and will enforce its orders against you
The family court does not accept that Parliament is a ‘legal fiction’ or that the Magna Carta operates to remove their jurisdiction. Thus, the family court can do nothing other than follow the relevant statute law and case law which dictates what it must do when making decisions about children.
The family court has very significant powers – such as removing your children from your care – in order to meet its statutory obligations. Thus the family court has both the will and the means to enforce its orders, with the assistance of the police if necessary.
You risk not being able to make arguments in court that will benefit your family
The family court can make orders even if you attend court and say you will not engage because you are a Freeman on the land. You will risk losing the opportunity to be heard about what you think is best for your children.
Therefore, you need to give very careful consideration to whether or not attempting to mount a Freeman on the land argument is actually going to help your family. It is particularly important to be very wary of anyone who wants you to pay them money for any documents or advice on how to conduct a family case.
If you are a parent in care proceedings then you will be entitled to non means, non merits tested public funding to instruct the lawyer of your choice.
See our post from a family law barrister about her role.
If you do want to represent yourself in court, you may be interested in our post about litigants in person – what if I don’t have a lawyer?
Views from Judges, bloggers and psychiatrists
You may be interested in this blog post by Adam Wagner of the Human Rights blog, where he considers the Freeman movement and comments:
This movement is not just silly, it is also dangerous, and seemingly gaining popularity through numerous internet sites. I can provide two recent examples where it definitely did not help, and probably did harm to, people in the justice system.
The first is the case of Elizabeth Watson and Victoria Haigh, the former of which was sentenced to 9 months in prison (later suspended) for publishing details online about sex abuse allegations made by Ms Haigh against her child’s father. Haigh’s case was taken up by John Hemming MP, and was one of the “super-injunctions” he revealed using Parliamentary privilege. She was ultimately found by the most senior family judge to be a fabricator who had coached her daughter to lie about being abused by her ex-partner.
Both Haigh and Watson considered themselves Freemen of the Land, who attempted to step outside of the system. It seems likely that at least in Watson’s case, her belief that she had “stepped outside of the system” led to her brazenly to flout contempt laws for as long as she did.
My second example arose when I did jury service last month (a generally positive experience – see my comment on it here). One of the trials involved a defendant who was accused of stealing sports cars. When we entered the court, the judge told us that the defendant had released his legal team and was denying the court’s jurisdiction. He refused to cross-examine witnesses – rather, he used the opportunity to ask the judge whether his jurisdiction arose from maritime law – and his closing statement involved the reading of a latin phrase and stating that he was the “official representative of the legal fiction known as…”
We found the Defendant guilty on 7 of 8 counts, and I will not say anything about our reasoning. I do suspect that the car stealing Defendant’s bizarre and misguided defence influenced the judge’s sentencing, and I also imagine that if he had retained his representation he may have pleaded guilty in any event. Either way, he probably went to prison for longer as a result of his attempt to trying to “step outside of the system“.
See this comment from a Canadian Judge, which we discuss in more detail below:
OPCA (Organised Pseduolegal Commercial Argument) strategies as brought before this Court have proven disruptive, inflict unnecessary expenses on other parties, and are ultimately harmful to the persons who appear in court and attempt to invoke these vexatious strategies. Because of the nonsense they argue, OPCA litigants are invariably unsuccessful and their positions dismissed, typically without written reasons.
Thus there is a serious risk that If you concentrate on making your arguments about why the court should recognise you as a ‘Freeman’ then any relevant arguments you do have about how the law should be applied in your child’s case, will not get heard.
There is a further risk that if you display the stereotypical behaviour of a ‘Freeman’, such as reliance on pseuduolegal language this may even raise doubts about your mental health and your ability to understand and participate in proceedings.
There is an interesting article from The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health in 2013 which considered the presentation of the Sovereign Citizens Movement in Canada, which follows the ‘Freeman’ philosophy. The authors conclude that the majority of ‘Sovereign Citizens’ present with many features that mimic psychotic features of mental illness.
The Sovereign Citizen movement supports a number of unusual beliefs that may be mistaken for psychotic symptomatology. These individuals present with many features which may appear psychotic in nature, including bizarre and paranoid beliefs as well as unusual speech and behavior. Despite this compelling psychotic mimicry, it is the authors’ opinion that the majority are not truly psychotic. Timely recognition and accurate assessment of Sovereign Citizen patients is crucial in order to minimize harm in the form of unnecessary treatment and hospitalization, as well as delays in court proceedings incurred by questions such as whether they are Unfit to Stand Trial. This paper provides a descriptive profile of distinguishing features which may be observed when assessing a Sovereign Citizen patient, with an emphasis on clinical presentation, diagnostic challenges, and management-related issues.
The Canadian response – Organised Pseduolegal Commerical Arguments
We discuss the Canadian response in more detail here.
There is a very interesting decision from a Canadian judge here, where he discusses at length the problems caused by such ‘Organised Pseudolegal Commercial Argument’ (OPCA) . He is particularly troubled by the impact of various ‘gurus’ in this field, who charge money for their services.
The judge also set down standards for any future dealings with OPCA litigants:
 Given the intrinsically vexatious nature of OPCA methodologies, which I review in detail below, it is appropriate that a court adopt special procedures for documents that show OPCA indicia, which may include:
1. that court clerks reject the materials that do not conform with required standards; 2012 ABQB 571 (CanLII) 60
2. that the court clerks accept and mark these materials as ‘received’ rather than ‘filed’; and
3.that materials that disclose OPCA characteristics may be reviewed by a judge without further submission or representation by the litigants, and that the judge may:
- declare that the litigation, application, or defence is frivolous, irrelevant or improper (Rule 3.68(2)(c)), or an abuse of process (Rule 3.68(2)(d)), also Canam Enterprises Inc v. Coles, (2000), 51 O.R. (3d) 481 (Ont. C.A.) at paras 55-56, affirmed 2002 SCC 63,  3 S.C.R. 307;
- order that the documents are irrelevant to the substance of the litigation, but are only retained on file as evidence that is potentially relevant to costs against the OPCA litigant, vexatious status of the litigation and litigant, and/or whether the litigant has engaged in criminal or contemptuous misconduct.
- reject the documents and order that if the litigant wishes to continue its action, application, or defence, the litigant then file replacement documentation that conforms to court formalities and does not involve irrelevant OPCA arguments;
- order that the litigant appear a before the court in a ‘show cause’ hearing to prove the litigant has an action or defence that is recognized in law; that hearing need not involve participation of the other party or parties; and
- assign fines, as authorized by Rule 10.49(1).
The Judge also warned that OPCA litigants are known to engage in disruptive and inappropriate in-court conduct and thus it may be necessary to increase in-court security.
If the Freeman on the land movement continues to gain momentum in the UK, it may be that our courts have to consider similar responses.