Down on your luck? Feel like cheering yourself up by, say, arresting a judge? Or perhaps you just fancy seizing a courtroom for the day? Well, the “Freeman-on-the-land” movement could be for you.
“Freemen” argue that the law can be circumvented by, for example, evoking an ancient text and then sending an affidavit to the Queen.
Here’s a clip of them in action (go to 4:21 for the hilarious pseudo-legal speech)….
Now, even in good old Britain, where Prince Charles gets a say in the democratic process because he’s Prince Charles, and his son William is awarded the title of “barrister” (British for trial lawyer) despite never having studied law, you can’t get away with this sort of crazy Freeman sh*t.
Last week, British lawyer and blogger Adam Wagner labelled the increasingly popular movement as “quackery plain and simple.” And Carl Gardner, another well-known British legal blogger, suggested that Freemanism was law’s equivalent of “crystal healing.”
Yet Gardner also likened Freemen to real-life lawyers — albeit ones behaving at their worst. “The love freemen show for magic texts, incantations and ritual is not just funny,” he continued, “it shows a strange, childlike respect for the trappings of justice, and a commitment to jargon not even the stuffiest solicitor [a type of British lawyer] can match.”
Certainly, the pompous, jargon-laden speech of the Freeman in the video clip above is reminiscent of the lawyers in Law & Peace: The BabyBarista Files, a recently-released satirical novel about the British legal profession by former barrister Tim Kevan. And the Freeman movement as a whole — essentially anarchy dressed up with ritual and long-winded rhetoric — bears more than a passing resemblance to Kevan’s picture of a ceremony-obsessed legal world where, behind the scenes, anything goes.
A recurrent theme in Law & Peace is the cynicism displayed by lawyers in private. At one point, the members of Kevan’s fictional chambers of barristers break off from a session of recruitment interviews to reflect on the sycophantic responses of the applicants to their questions. Later on, over a couple of pints in the local pub, they compile a set of truthful answers.
“Because I just love twisting the truth and taking technical points.”
Why personal injury?
“Because it’s easy and well, I like money.”
Why employment law?
“Because litigants in person are always easier to beat.”
Why landlaw and tenant [aka real estate]?
“Because I’ll enjoy doing-over impoverished tenants and hey, it’s one better even than being a bailiff. Why, it’s living the dream.”
When they’re not partaking in these chats, Kevan’s characters are padding their bills to private clients, screwing the publicly funded litigation system for all it’s worth, and generating as much confusion about the workings of law as they can. At one point, a lawyer named Slippery reflects: “It’s simple. The harder we work at complicating everything the more essential we become to being able to fix it. A wonderful, money-making virtuous circle.”
It may be fiction, but the grain of truth found in this witty distillation of Kevan’s ten years practising as a barrister in London gives an insight into why the U.K. public have become sick not just of politicians and bankers, but increasingly of lawyers, too.
In his rebuttal of the Freeman movement, Gardner argues, not a little pompously himself, that “law is the friend of political progress, not its enemy.” Given the legal profession’s failure to live up to this lofty billing during the boom years, perhaps it’s time lawyers shouldered some of the blame for the rise of the Freeman movement, rather than simply telling everyone how stupid it is.
Alex Aldridge is Above the Law’s U.K. correspondent. He also writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is the Editor of Legal Cheek. Previously Alex was Associate Editor of Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.