New BA Post-doc fellowship project will examine the ‘Freeman on the Land’ movement

Francesca Uberti, post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, has been awarded a British Academy post doc fellowship to work on her project “Law and Conspiracy: Exploring the Use of Legalistic Rhetoric and Narratives in Anti-Authority Worldviews”.

Francesca is interested in challenges to the authority of the law and the authority of the state, as well as ‘symbolic’ or ‘mythological’ narratives of law. Her previous research into vaccine critical groups led her to the ‘Freeman on the Land’ movement in the UK. The pseudo- legal arguments developed by this movement, often referring to ancient laws like the Magna Carta, have been recently invoked during the pandemic to challenge the authority of lockdown regulations in the context of anti-lockdown protests.

The ‘Freeman’ movement has been described as representing a unique current challenge to the authority of the legal system and the judiciary. It is not a structured movement but a collection of loosely organised local groups whose central belief is that the law does not apply to an individual unless they consent to it.  The main bodies of authority who come into contact with the ‘Freeman’ proponents are local authorities. Some even have references on their websites to say that citing the Magna Carta does not provide an exemption to council tax payments.  Local authorities and the judiciary are struggling to respond to these types of arguments. The project aims to understand how prevalent this is and the nature of the challenges that local authorities face.

Researchers in Canada and the US looking at groups such as the Freemen and ‘Sovereign Citizens’ have identified characteristics that these groups all share and have catalogued the use and prevalence of such beliefs.  Francesca will explore how widespread these groups are in the UK and will conduct archival research to find out about litigation where ‘Freeman’ arguments have been used.  She will also conduct a thematic analysis of online content and survey local authorities.

The output of the project will be three articles in peer-reviewed socio-legal journals and a draft monograph.