Why the sovereign citizen movement fails in court: SCU Buzz podcast

Published 15 May 2023
David Heilpern Dean of Law

Can you opt out of the legal obligation to pay your taxes or wear a seatbelt?

The sovereign citizen movement has gone viral online and proports the notion that individuals can contract out of laws they don’t agree with. But Southern Cross University Dean of Law and former magistrate Associate Professor David Heilpern says these arguments simply do not hold up in court.

Speaking with student hosts River and Amy for the SCU Buzz podcast, Mr Heilpern said the sovereign citizen movement has a number of core beliefs such as the need for a victim or injury for a law to apply and the ability to opt out of laws through way of contract.

However, Mr Heilpern said these arguments do not have any factual basis. “As a society, we have agreed to be bound by rules. You can’t contract out of a legal obligation that is set by statute,” he said.

“If we could pick and choose the laws that apply to us then the whole system would break down.”

In fact, arguing these points in court could lead to serious consequences according to Mr Heilpern. “I jailed many people for what started out as minor traffic matters but ended up being long-term jail sentences because they adhered to the belief that these laws did not apply to them,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t realise that if you get a ticket and you pay for it, that’s the end of it. But if you elect to go to court, the original amount of the ticket is irrelevant and the court works to the maximum penalty.

“There’s a range of things that the court considers such as if it’s a plea of guilty, if there’s remorse, if the person has done some education. They can all lessen the penalty. But if you come to court completely remorseless, not acknowledging that the court has any power over you, then the penalty regime is going to increase.

“Whatever their belief is, it’s actually irrelevant when you get to court because not one of these sovereign citizen arguments has ever got up in any way in any court.”

Media contact: Content team content@scu.edu.au