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Pseudo-legal ideas and legal rights

Updated: May 6, 2021

Have you recently come across someone claiming to be a 'sovereign citizen' or 'freeman'? Have you wondered what that means?

Since leaving BigLaw and establishing my own niche law practice, I've had the opportunity to work with individuals and groups concerned about defending their legal rights. A lot of my work touches on human rights.

In my work, I've become better acquainted with a pseudo-legal body of ideas that has been floating around the Internet for years. This can be loosely called the 'sovereign citizen' or 'freeman' movement. Those who subscribe to these ideas believe that governments and lawyers use secret, shady techniques to circumvent sovereign rights. By relying on certain counter-tactics - so these ideas go - people can successfully defend themselves in the face of law enforcement and the court system.

Members of the judiciary and litigation lawyers may be familiar with these people who become vexatious litigants, arguing fervently about their 'common law, 'sovereign' or 'constitutional' rights. They are more frequently found in disputes with the Australian Taxation Office and banks, as well as in minor infringements such as traffic matters.

However, with travel restrictions, detentions in quarantine, business closures and other health orders becoming a way of life, people have been faced with greater deprivations and restrictions of their fundamental human rights (such as freedom of movement, the right of peaceful assembly and right to privacy). They are searching for ways to take back their rights, and these pseudo-legal ideas are finding fertile ground on which to proliferate.

These ideas are completely legally ineffective. Worse, they are potentially harmful to individuals who rely on them. Lawyers throw up their hands in disbelief and frustration when they encounter these arguments. Sadly, as I work with more and more ordinary people who find hope in these notions, I predict an uptick in their use.

For lawyers (and anyone) encountering them, I found an excellent online resource by Mr Robert Sudy, who himself was enthralled with these principles and tried to use them unsuccessfully in a traffic matter in a Magistrates Court in New South Wales. Mr Sudy is not a lawyer; however, his research is meticulous. His excellent website is where he analyses the arguments and debunks them. It's targeted at Australian law but is a helpful resource for other common law jurisdictions.

In these unpredictable times, people are afraid, frustrated, and feeling helpless. As lawyers who may come across anyone expressing these ideas, can I suggest we should seek to educate rather than scorn them? We need to do so firmly but with compassion as often people taken with these ideas are extremely mistrustful already. Mr Sudy's website is an exceptional place to help us do that.

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