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Sovereign citizens: new calls to rein in scammers who believe they are above the law

Driver arguing with police officer

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Published
24 November 2023

A Southern Cross University expert has exposed websites giving dodgy legal advice, warning that people who take it could find themselves on a fast-track to prison.

Associate Professor David Heilpern, Dean of Law at Southern Cross University, is presenting his findings at a conference hosted by the University Technology Sydney (UTS) on Friday November 24.

The Pseudolaw and The Administration of Justice conference will explore a range of issues associated with the troubling rise of the sovereign citizens movement.

As part of his research, Associate Professor Heilpern signed up to for-profit websites peddling the false promise people could use legal loopholes and tactics to get out of traffic offences.

“Of most concern is that these websites and publications actually encourage subscribers to break the law in a manner that could lead them to prison,” Associate Professor Heilpern said.

The sovereign citizens movement – a disparate group of conspiracy theorists and anti-government activists – is bonded by the idea that government law does not apply to them unless they provide consent.

David Heilpern_Dean of Law

“I cannot believe that various federal and state consumer protection agencies have not shut these scam sites down given that they encourage serious criminal offences.”

Conference joint convenor, UTS Associate Professor Harry Hobbs, said there had been a significant post-pandemic rise of the movement in Australia and it was impacting on policing and the courts.

He said members of the movement could range across an extreme spectrum, which had resulted in tragic consequences in recent years.

“The conference will cover a wide range of issues including international developments, connection with the extreme right and religious cults, and the interaction of pseudo law with sovereignty contentions,” he said.

“We are all aware of the involvement of pseudo law adherents in a number of deaths over the last 12 months, in particular the ambush and murder of police in Queensland, and two sieges in New South Wales.

“We are also aware of the regularity of court time and police resources being drained by gobbledegook legal arguments.”

Associate Professor Heilpern – a Magistrate for more than 20 years – expressed frustration more wasn’t being done to rein in the movement.

In one of the glaring examples uncovered as part of his work, a company was providing advice on how to provide a false statutory declaration – itself an offence – which would not absolve the driver in any event.

“I cannot believe that various federal and state consumer protection agencies have not shut these scam sites down given that they encourage serious criminal offences, and advise readers to use claims, tactics and legal arguments that have never worked in any court in Australia,” Associate Professor Heilpern said.

Media contact

Sharlene King, Media Office at Southern Cross University +61 429 661 349 or [email protected]