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Freeman on the land case law round up

Freeman on the land arguments in mortgage repossession and council tax recovery.

Published May 2024

A growing trend of conspiracy theory litigants

Advisers and courts have seen increased numbers of claims by litigants in person advancing arguments rooted in archaic law, sometimes calling themselves a ‘freeman on the land’. The arguments are nothing new, though until recently they were more commonly found on display in the USA and Canada.

'Freeman on the land' is the name ascribed to the growing number of people who state they cannot be held liable for debts for various reasons, usually related to Magna Carta or another ancient law.

The rise of social media conspiracy rabbit holes during and after the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have given them a wider audience. Here is a round-up of some recent cases and their outcomes.

Part 8 claims against mortgage lenders

Dismissing thirteen separate claims against various mortgage lenders, Master Thornett expressed concern about an “unseen hand” behind the court documents. All the pleadings contained the same unusual arguments and reasoning.

The borrower claimants had issued part 8 claims attempting to thwart eviction proceedings in the County Court. The Judge concluded that all the claims had been drafted by the same person, sharing the same “legal and factual oddities”.

The claimants were not only hoping to circumvent possession proceedings but also to claim money from their mortgage lenders. They had no basis to do so. The claimants had fundamentally misunderstood the law they hoped to rely upon.

The claimants in this case have been treated with sympathy by the judge. No doubt significant costs have been added to the mortgage account, but the impression upon reading the judgment is that the outcome could have been much worse for these claimants.

Lewis v “The West Brom” [2023] EWHC 1361 (KB)

Judge warns of abuse of process

Another dismissal of claims by mortgage borrowers, this time three claims (though over 200 were brought in total) in very similar circumstances to Lewis.

Once again, the same unnamed person appeared to have drafted the claims, which alleged that supposed transfers from mortgagees to third parties were not correctly registered as required by the Land Registration Act 2002. After that, the claimants’ arguments fall back on Magna Carta and other largely defunct and irrelevant laws. The judgment highlights "a near miraculous uniformity of common purpose, style, and prose" in the pleadings.

Orders on the 200 further claims were issued in line with this judgment.

The court commented on the increase in claims of this nature, and warned future litigants of the risk of costs and consequences of abuse of process.

Stamp & Ors v Capital Home Loans Ltd & Ors [2024] EWHC 1092 (KB)

Freemen on the land and council tax

The legal oddities in Lewis v The West Brom are all too familiar to debt advisers, who can find themselves trapped in interminable appointments with people who insist they have no contract to pay council tax.

Local authorities are sufficiently plagued by people claiming to be freemen on the land and therefore not liable for local taxation, that each has a section on its website explaining why the argument won’t stand up. Most websites state a ‘promissory note’ in place of council tax is not acceptable. One South Yorkshire authority has seen fit to publish 15 ‘FAQs’ addressing the matter.

No liability order issued

Local authorities will be pleased with the latest development. The taxpayer claimed for judicial review against Oldham Council, which had obtained two liability orders for council tax and secured them against her property by way of a charging order. The claimant had included a request for the charging order to be declared ‘void’.

It would be wrong to ignore this case as simply another ‘no contract to pay council tax’ case, though arguments to that effect are advanced. The intriguing part is the claimant’s assertion that the local authority’s failure to produce physical copies of liability orders means they cannot be enforced.

A position similar to this has been shared by council tax expert and barrister Alan Murdie in various articles, and in the Council Tax Handbook (CPAG). The argument centres around the fact that magistrates’ courts have not physically issued liability orders since 2003, when regulation 35 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 was amended to remove reference to a specified form. As a result, any enforcement that refers to orders ‘made’, as in reg 50 which covers charging orders, is not open to the local authority.

Alternative remedy available

The High Court refused permission for the judicial review on the basis that Kofa had an alternative remedy by way of either an appeal or an application to set aside. Before doing so, the judgment comments that there is no need for a ‘court issued’ order, but a County Court that makes a charging order must be satisfied that a liability order has been made. Though not binding, these comments will presumably be persuasive in the future should the issue arise again.

Kofa v Oldham [2024] EWHC 685 (Admin)

About the author

Alexa Walker is a senior legal editor at Shelter and CPAG Debt Advice Handbook author. Alexa co-authors the regular debt advice update for Legal Action magazine.