Freemen on the Land are “parasites” peddling “pseudolegal nonsense”: Canadian judge fights back

Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571 (Canadian) – read judgment / PDF

Almost a year ago, I and some other legal bloggers wrote about a phenomenon known as the Freemen on the Land movement. I called the post Freemen of the dangerous nonsense, for that is exactly what the movement is, for those desperate enough to sign up to it. Now a Canadian judge has done many judges around the world a huge favour by exploding the movement’s ideas and leaders (or “gurus”) in a carefully referenced and forensic 192-page judgment, which should be read by anyone who has ever taken a passing interest in this issue, and certainly by any judge faced by a litigant attempting the arguments in court. 

The Freemen, alongside other groups with similar creeds, believe that if you change your name and deny the jurisdiction of the courts, you will be able to escape debt collectors, council tax and even criminal charges. As this member of the Occupy London movement, “commonly known as dom” wrote in guardian.co.uk (of all places) “if you don’t consent to be that “person”, you step outside the system“.

As you may have guessed, this magical technique never works in the courts, but judges are often flummoxed when faced with the arguments, which are odd and in many ways risible. But what has been lacking is an authoritative, systematic judgment explaining, in detail, why that is. Until now, that is.

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All about killing badgers

R (o.t.a Badger Trust) v. Defra, Ouseley J, 12 July 2012, read judgment, and on appeal, CA, 11 September 2012, not yet available online.

It is impossible to drive through the narrow and high-hedged lanes of Herefordshire without coming across the sad and inevitable outcome of car meeting badger. One estimate is that we may lose as many as 50,000 badgers a year this way. But this case is about whether we should kill a lot more badgers – deliberately.

For many years there has been a debate about whether, and if so, to what extent, badgers cause the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, and, if it does, what should we do about it. Recently, a decision was made by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to cull some of them. And this challenge is to the lawfulness of that decision.

At which point we immediately run up against a bit of an institutional accident. Defra, is, when you scratch it, the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food spliced together with bits of the old Department of Environment. And, a bit like the sad nocturnal collision of badger and vehicle, badgers tend to come off worse when farming interests encounter nature, particularly where, as in this context, the science appears equivocal. That sounds rather contentious, but is not meant to. Let me explain why.

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Sex abuse allegations against parent should be disclosed in contact proceedings

Re J (A Child: Disclosure) [2012] EWCA Civ 1204 – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ordered the the disclosure of serious allegations made against a parent by an anonymous third party in contact proceedings. In doing so, it has demonstrated the correct approach to balancing the many different human rights considerations involved. 

Every day, family courts across the UK are required to determine the difficult question of how much contact there should be between a child and his or her parents. It is the norm for these cases to be factually complicated and emotionally draining. However, this case was exceptional. It was an appeal relating contact proceedings in respect of a ten year old girl (A). The court had made various orders for contact over a number of years, with a final order being made in 2009 that the she was to stay with her father for two weeks each February and four weeks each summer.

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Abu Hamza wants his passport back

UPDATED | I have been sent the Statement of Facts and Grounds for Judicial Review on behalf of Abu Hamza, dated 25 September 2012. These are open court documents and have been obtained directly from the Royal Courts of Justice.

Abu Hamza’s extradition has been put on hold whilst this Judicial Review claim is being dealt with this coming Tuesday [update – I understand that another issue is being dealt with on Tuesday, and that the passport point is not the one which has held up the extradition]. I think this may be a ‘permission hearing’ (the first hurdle a JR claim has to surmount) although it may well be a ‘rolled up’ hearing, which means the permission and substantive aspects will be dealt with all at once. A few points to note (nb. this is my quick summary, and is only of course of one side of the case – Abu Hamza’s):

This particular claim is very limited. He applied for and was granted a passport on 11 November 2011 and although this was sent on 20 November 2011 to Belmarsh Prison, where he was located, the passport has not yet been given to him. He has also requested photocopies, to no avail.

He claims that the failure to provide him with his passport or copies of it is contrary to Home Office Guidance Note 20, as well as potentially Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life) and the EU Citizen’s Directive 2004/38/EC. For what it’s worth, this is fundamentally a legality challenge under ordinary public law principles – the human rights aspect of it is likely to be in the background. So although it would technically be correct to say he is challenging this decision on human rights grounds, that aspect is only likely to play a small part in the claim.

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Human rights and the UK constitution (or, why turkeys don’t vote for Christmas)

The British Academy have today published a very interesting new report by Colm O’Cinneide considering the workings of the UK human rights law, the relationship between the ECHR, UK courts and the Parliament and the potential effect of a bill of rights.

The report (full report / executive summary) had a prestigious steering committee, including Professor Vernon Bognodor, who knows a bit about the British constitution, and Professor Conor Gearty. The conclusions represent – at least in my experience – the mainstream view amongst legal academics, lawyers and indeed judges on the human rights system. In summary, and with apologies if this is an over-simplification of the report’s detailed findings:

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Failure to stop disability harassment is inhuman treatment, rules Strasbourg

Attitudes changing, slowly

DORDEVIC v. CROATIA – 41526/10 – HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1640 – read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has declared in Đorđević v Croatia that the failure of the Croatian State to prevent the persistent harassment of a severely disabled young man was a breach of his Article 3 ECHR right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

It also amounted to a breach of his mother’s Article 8 ECHR right to respect for her family and private life.  The applicants had no effective remedy in the domestic courts in breach of Article 13 ECHR.

This is an important judgment on the protection from harassment that the State must ensure for disabled people and their families.

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The Erika: Cour de Cassation finds against Total, big time.

Earlier today, 25 September 2012, (judgment here, in French) the Cour de Cassation in Paris ruled on the long-running question of whether Total is criminally and civilly liable  for the loss of the Erika on 12 December 1999 and the consequent spillage of some 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, affecting some 400 km of the French coastline.

The case has see-sawed so far. The Criminal Court of First Instance, and the Court of Appeal in Paris  had said that Total and others were responsible, though the Court of Appeal did not make this finding in respect of the civil claims. Next, the prosecutor, Advocate-General Boccon-Gibod, expressed his view to the Cour de Cassstion that Total was not liable at all. But his view was not shared by 80 parties who appeared before the court, including the affected communes Now, the court has finally ruled in favour of those polluted, both under the criminal and civil laws, as against Total and other responsible parties – all these issues have been decided in the same decision, in a way which may seem a bit odd to UK lawyers who generally put criminal and civil law in different boxes.

The judgment is pretty weighty, some 330 pages of legal French – as is standard, this is all written as one huge sentence – broken up by multitudinous semi-colons. it is not easy to digest, to say the least, but I shall try and give the bare bones of the decision.

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