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Byron Shire
September 20, 2021

Sovereign citizens have ‘zero’ legal status in Australia, says former magistrate

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Mia Armitage* with Fernando de Freitas

Sovereign citizens: by now, thanks to debates and protests over public health orders and COVID-19 vaccinations in Australia, you’re probably aware of the term and associated movement.

You might also have learned of the term’s origins in the United States and have heard about its connections to today’s alt-right politics.

But how are sovereign citizens regarded under Australian law? Can we really tell authorities we ‘don’t consent’ to rules around mask-wearing, public gatherings or, as was more common before the pandemic, traffic and drug offences, and be excused?

The person known as David Heilpern

Recently retired magistrate David Heilpern. Photo Jeff Dawson

What if we distance ourselves from the name on our identification records, saying instead ‘the person known as…. [insert legal name here]’ when dealing with bodies we consider corporations (like the government, the police and courts)?

Can we tell a judge we never willingly entered into a contract with these entities and ultimately have our freedoms recognised? Aren’t our rights protected in the constitution?

Definitively not, says former NSW Magistrate and occasional Echo contributor David Heilpern.

In his days as a lawyer, Mr Heilpern fought to make an argument that criminal laws didn’t apply to First Nations people.

He says his arguments failed at every level of court in Australia, despite the well-known absence of a treaty (what you might consider a ‘contract’) between European colonisers and indigenous people.

Mr Heilpern later spent ten years as a magistrate on the Northern Rivers, where he says he encountered a person ‘every week’ in court declaring that laws didn’t include them because they’d signed unilateral contracts removing them from the law’s scope.

The deep southern US racist roots of sovereign citizenship

The sovereign citizens movement became popular enough for magistrates and judges to call for more research to be done and Mr Heilpern was one of those to answer the call, reviewing every case he could find in Australian legal history with the reference and uncovering its American roots.

The former magistrate spoke earlier this month of his experience dealing with sovereign citizens with Bay FM Above the Fray host Fernando de Freitas and the following is a lightly edited transcription of part of that interview.

David Heilpern [DH]:    There’s a couple of terrific judgments from its place of origin, which is the deep south of the United States of America, where essentially, a racist right-wing strawman movement started whereby people created this idea of them not being members of community and declaring themselves not to be bound by the laws of where they live.

It was essentially because they didn’t like the laws, as things changed and became more liberal. For example, segregation ended and voting rights for black people occurred. So it is born out of that movement, out of the right-wing, racist movement from the south of the United States.

Former magistrate delivers verdict on sovereign citizens beliefs in Australia: ‘mistaken’

DH:   Sovereign citizen core beliefs come from an essential mistake in understanding things about the law: you don’t have to consent to the criminal laws of the state or the Commonwealth applying to you.

It’s a really basic mistake to say, ‘well, if I don’t consent, then the laws don’t apply to me’ and if you think about it logically, for one second, you realise that it is a mistake.

I mean, the laws apply to you by virtue of the fact that the laws apply to you: there’s no opt out or opt in process when it comes to criminal law.

You’re either part of it because of your birth, or you’re part of it by virtue of the laws themselves.

Zero legal basis for sovereign citizens in Australia, says former magistrate

Fernando de Freitas [FDF]:   So any of their legal arguments, do any of their legal arguments have any legal basis whatsoever here in Australia?

DH:   I want to be very clear and very emphatic about this. There is absolutely no legal basis for any of their core beliefs. None, zero.

The closest I think we’ve come to in the law, taking a whole lot of steps back and going back to the very basics, is Terra Nullius and the Mabo decision.’

Speaking later to The Echo, Mr Heilpern said it was ‘remote and tangential’ to ‘step back in time to change things in comparison’ to what First Nations’ advocates were arguing at the time of the Mabo debate.

Remember: there is no human rights charter in Australia!

FDF: What about discrimination? Is [enforcement of, for example, mask-wearing] a breach of the 1948 charter of human rights as they say?

DH:    Well, it’s an interesting thing. I think there’s a mistake that people make when they troll through charters of international rights, that just because Australia’s a signatory to them means that they apply as law in the country.

There needs to be an enabling piece of legislation to trigger those international covenants and international agreements, application within the state or Commonwealth sphere.

For example, charters of human rights have a lot of principles, they have a lot of of recommendations, and Australia has signed them.

That doesn’t mean that they’re the gospel law in Australia.

So, for example, we have signed human rights declarations about the rights of children, the rights of children to be housed, etc.

But that doesn’t stop the government locking up refugees, children refugees, because even though we’ve signed these, we haven’t enacted them and in fact, we’ve enacted laws contrary to them.

If there’s a battle between some International Covenant or agreement we’re a signatory to, the law that’s been enacted wins hands down every time.

Sovereign citizens tested in ‘every level’ of Australian justice system, says Heilpern

FDF:So just to be clear, once again, all of their arguments that they make, have they all been fully tested in Australian courts?

DH:Absolutely. They have. Not only have they been tested, they have been thrown out at every level: at local court; at district court and Supreme Court; at High Court; in the federal jurisdiction, in the Federal Magistrates Court and again, in the High Court; in tribunals around Australia as well, like NCAT within New South Wales or QCAT within Queensland.

They have been thrown out every single time they’ve been raised.

I go periodically to their websites, where this material is discussed, and I’ve read the claims of some of the organisations that say, ‘we’ve represented this person and they had a win because they didn’t need a driver’s license in Victoria’.

It’s all utter garbage and when you go looking for the actual cases, or any real reported decisions- I’m not talking about anecdotal reports, I’m talking about decisions that are reported in the law reports- they’re not there.

They just don’t exist.

There is a great fraud taking place against the community on these websites that claim that sovereign citizenship works in courts around the country because it never has, it never will and it doesn’t.

‘Worthless’ sovereign citizen kits defrauding real-life citizens online

FDF:What do you mean by fraud? What is going on here?

DH:   I’ve seen websites where they’re charging people for so-called ‘sovereignty kits’: where people pay money, they get a kit that enables them or gives them the tools to declare themselves and sign the binding contracts and challenge the constitutional ability of courts to make their determinations and indicate that they’re not part of the corporation.

These kits are worthless, are completely valueless, and to pretend that they give anybody the ability to win court cases is fraudulent in the sense that it is taking money from people for nothing.’

Case dismissals unlikely to refer to sovereign citizens, ex-magistrate says

The Echo spoke to Mr Heilpern after his interview with Bay FM and asked him to respond to allegations official law reports omitted cases that were dismissed and featured sovereign citizens.

‘Not all cases are reported, that’s true,’ Mr Heilpern said, ‘but if anybody had a case dismissed on the basis of sovereign citizenship that would certainly be reported because that would be historic and would change the fundamental system of how the criminal justice  system works’.

Mr Heilpern said the commonly known ‘Section 10’ law in NSW gave magistrates and judges the power to find people guilty of certain offences in certain circumstances but to effectively excuse them by not recording the conviction and not requiring them to serve any sentence or pay any fines.

He said it was possible some people viewed the Section 10 cases as examples of sovereign citizens successfully circumventing the law but explained they were usually reserved for first-time offenders, like teenagers smuggling cannabis into music festivals.

‘It’s not a dismissal in the sense of any acceptance of the sovereign citizens’ arguments,’ he said.

Common by name, common by law

The Echo also asked Mr Heilpern what the significance of so-called ‘common law’ was in comparison to the law we hear being enforced.

‘Common law is traditionally known as judge-made law,’ Mr Heilpern said, ‘but obviously a judge-made law yields to legislation, so common law exists alongside legislation’.

‘Ccommon law yields to legislation,’ Mr Heilpern said.

*Mia Armitage is a Bay FM member. Listen to this interview here.

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  1. It’s amazing that people have to be told that obvious nonsense is actually nonsense. There is freedom to be a fool but there’s no requirement for others to accept your foolish beliefs.

  2. What does this garbage mean?
    “Sovereign citizens: by now, thanks to debates and protests over public health orders and COVID-19 vaccinations in Australia, you’re probably aware of the term and associated movement.”
    We are not in the United States as the sovereign citizen movement looks at the local sheriff to be the absolute law they abide by.
    In Australia a Sovereign is a silver 20-cent piece, so a Sovereign citizen is someone who has 20 cents.
    What debates? There has been no debates in the Northern Rivers. There have been no protests in the Northern Rivers. What term? There was a book, “For the Term of his Natural Life” about convicts. The associated movement was to become a Free Settler.

  3. I’ve recently lost a schoolfriend who I’ve known for over 50 years to the unfathomable sovereign citizen/ anticvax / covid denial way of thinking.

    They were one I always thought exhibited a intelligence far superior to mine but now there’s nothing left between us except unspoken words that will never be uttered and a cold glaring emptiness where once there was warmth and laughter.

    I feel very sad indeed about the current wierdness and wackiness lately impacting us all, and in particular the sorrowful and negative changes it has wrought our relationship 😔

    To all of the selfish self-centred people that my once friend now shares ranks with… Do right by your fellow humans you lot starting now! I’m heartily sick of your peace destroying, disturbing mindless bullshit!

  4. It’s odd to see the Echo attempting to tar anti vaxxer types with the brush of ‘deep Southern US racists’. I’m can’t imagine many Mullum alternative lifestylers would understand or appreciate the crude smear. I suspect that their ideas about freedom and the dangers of an over reaching authority stem more from a left wing anarchist or collectivist tradition rather than the KKK.
    I don’t doubt the legal advice is sound but trying to shame Covid sceptics with the racist card is a bit McCarthyite.

  5. It’s most unfortunate that Australian armchair lawyers, in their ignorance, embrace every half-cocked American idea as though it were applicable to Australia.

    Just because it’s on the idiot box doesn’t make it true or relevant.

    To insist otherwise is merely to continue the grovel to a major culture that is not ours.

    Get over it and get real! We live under the laws of Australia – like it or not.

    Thank you, DH, for once more shedding some clear light on the nonsense of ‘sovereign citizenry’.

  6. There is an Australian Law firm called
    G&B Lawyers
    If you have any problems about mandatory jabs, or fines for not wearing a mask etc, they claim it’s not enforceable and will fight the courts for your freedom. FREE OF CHARGE

    • I suggest you get in as fast as you can. Once they start losing case after case I reckon the free option will disappear real quick. Did you not read any of the above article – none of this nonsense has any legal standing at all.

    • Vaccines are not mandatory. There is no mandate for that. Furthermore, there are medical exemptions for masks in my state, I’m assuming all states, and under the privacy act, a person is not required to disclose personal medical information, so I believe they could win.

      • Apologies, there is recent legislation to mandate vaccination on quarantine workers in Australia. It does not apply to the general population.

  7. Beware Make sure you don’t publish contrary views. This is like reading Soviet news from the 1950’s .. well done comrades

  8. I don’t think the article tarred anti-vaxxers with the same brush as racists.
    Someone commented and mentioned them in the same sentence.
    I don’t think there is a one-to-one correlation between those two groups.
    However anti-vaxxers seem to ignore science in a similar way to sovereign citizens ignoring law, it seems to be a very similar style of stupid, only believing things that suit your views.
    Oh and Bob, dragging out communism, wow you sound American, not something to be proud of.

  9. If you do not answer any questions to police but instead ask them questions, if you can have them answer the question of “Am I a Man (or Am I a Woman)”? and keep asking until they reply yes or not. On the second time you ask you can state that you will only ask them one more time and then you will answer for them, which you go ahead with if they haven’t said yes or no.
    But its better if you can get them to answer the question themselves.
    After the third time they still haven’t answered, you say that you’re answering for them and that “yes you are a Man (or Woman)”. But because you have stated already that you would only ask “Am I a Man (or Woman)” one more time, then you must keep that word.
    You can try then to ask a false dilemma question (a question with only 2 alternative options to choose aka. either/or question). Of “Can you please answer my question, Am I a Man or am I a Woman? (both genders to say) At this point this will make it more likely to get the response you want of: ‘you’re a Man (or you’re a Woman’, and you’ve asked a slightly different question than before.
    (important to do what you say you will do).
    Now once they have said this congratulations, you have now gone from the public sector and entered the private sector and you can politely BUT firmly state to the police that they have no jurisdiction over you because you’re a living Man (or Woman) and that you will be on your way back to whatever business you were doing before you were interrupted.
    This is equity law, and it rules over all legislation and acts.


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