The Magna Carta caused some problems too….

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What does it mean when someone says “I’m a freeman on the land”?

In one sense, it means nothing at all, because the very concept is based on a hugely mistaken series of beliefs.

But if you’re involved in litigation, and the person on the other side says that, it means additional expense and possibly a great deal of hassle.

I’m writing about this for two reasons: one is that I’m acting for a client who is claiming against a Defendant who is saying the sort of thing that ‘freemen’ tend to say. The other is that – as everyone has probably noticed – it’s the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Everyone knows that the signing of Magna Carta is a significant event. It was the first time an English King accepted the principle that there may be some restrictions on his absolute rule. But not everyone knows that it was repudiated within a year, nor that the one that stayed on the statute books was a re-draft from 1297 . (Even that only has 2 provisions left – habeas corpus and one concerning the rights of the City of London.)

Back to our friends the ‘freemen’. They attach ‘magical’ significance to Magna Carta (and quite a few other things), and they believe that some of the provisions – ones that have long been repealed – mean that only the monarch can try them, not some jumped-up politicians in Parliament or their lackeys in the Judiciary, but that in order to bring this state of affairs about they have to separate themselves from the citizenry of Britain and declare themselves a ‘free man on the land’. This means – because of long-protected secret principles that no lawyer will tell you about – that they don’t have to pay taxes, can’t be accused of crimes, and can’t be pursued for debts.

Great, isn’t it?

But of course, if a person follows such a course, it is going to result in confrontation. The police, the taxman, the local authorities and the courts all believe that everyone is subject to the law, and so freemen often end up in Court.

They have developed a series of tactics to employ. One is to claim that the standard name format – John Albert Smith – is a trick. That’s why it’s on an official document – your birth certificate. So you have to repudiate your name. To do this outright would be slightly inconvenient, so the formula they employ is to claim that “my proper name is ‘john albert of the family smith’; therefore where it says ‘JOHN ALBERT SMITH’ on the Court summons, that’s the corporate entity with which the government does business and I am not him but the natural man john albert of the family smith”

I could tell you a lot more, but if you’re interested, there was a case – Meads v Meads 2012 ABQB 571 in Alberta in Canada where the Associate Chief Justice of Alberta, realising that there was a lot of this nonsense going on in the courts for which he was responsible, took the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive survey of all such litigants in a judgment given at an interim hearing in a divorce between a woman and her ‘freeman’ husband. He devised a name – Organised Pseudo-Commercial Argument litigants, or OPCA litigants – divided them into categories, identified the distinguishing features and in particular set out the sort of tactics that they typically employ and how judges should use their powers to prevent OPCAs from causing difficulties and unnecessary expense to other litigants and the court system.

Of course this all started in the USA where they have a bad case of confusion: they almost worship their Constitution but many of them loathe the governments and politicians that are elected under it. It appears that it was – sad to say – a lawyer who started the whole thing off as a way to try and avoid paying tax. Since then it has spread to other similar jurisdictions – Canada and the UK to name two. The US Internal Revenue has published a list of OPCA ‘frivolous tax arguments’ and makes it quite clear that if you use them to try and avoid paying tax, you’ll be penalised.

In my clients’ case, while the Defendant started off replying in typical OPCA terms to my correspondence, I seem to have persuaded him that pursuing this tactic to the bitter end will end badly for him.

In a way, I’m disappointed: if he’d carried on in that vein, he would almost certainly have been sanctioned and we might have succeeded in the claim before it really started.

But, on the other hand, the Judge did recognise that his behaviour during the claim so far was sufficient to for a costs order to be given against him. If he can’t pay the costs order – several thousand pounds – maybe we’ll still win without having to go to trial!


Article by Stephen Netherwood Legal Advisor in the Company Commercial Department.
The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation