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"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 common law, as they define it. The "Freeman on the land" movement has its origins in various United States-based groups in the 1970s and 1980s, reaching Ireland, the United Kingdom and Canada soon after 2000. The FBI considers "sovereign citizen extremists" to be part of a domestic terrorist movement.
When used as an argument in law, the term Organised Pseudolegal Commercial Arguments (OPCA) has been applied. Such arguments are considered vexatious. There is no recorded instance where such tactics have worked; 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 their birth certificate; some freemen[who?] will claim that it is entirely limited to the birth certificate. Under this theory, a "strawman" is created when a birth certificate is issued, and that this is the entity which 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 they 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.
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]
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