ministers accused of fueling common law misconceptions of conspiracy theorists | UK News
According to the Law Society, government attacks on judges and lawyers fuel distrust of the courts and encourage false notions of old “common law” pushed by conspiracy theorists.
The use of misinterpretations of the common law to present courts, fines and regulations, particularly in relation to Covid-19, as invalid or erroneous is becoming an increasingly common trend across the spectrum of extremist groups, ranging from anti-vax conspiracy theorists to the far right.
The trend – which relies on a non-existent common law and has seen activists hand out bogus legal ‘writs’ in schools and hospitals as well as allegations of crimes committed by doctors and journalists – has been a factor this week during the harassment of Labor leader Keir Starmer when extremists in viral footage of the incident could be heard shouting at him to ‘protect the constitution’.
It briefly acquainted the public with what is a fringe theory, and the movement is growing rapidly on social media, anti-vaccine journals, and in the real world. Mock common law training courses are held across the country by various groups, in some cases led by military veterans who combine them with training in civil disobedience tactics.
A group is running courses across the country at up to £20 a person to train ‘an army of common law officers’ who are ‘mandated to enforce constitutional laws’ by making arrests and assisting where “Members’ rights are subject to the intervention of bailiffs, municipal employees or police officers and other bodies”. He claims to have trained 850 “constables”.
Beyond the activities of extremist groups, false theories have gained traction among members of the public, such as a hair salon owner in West Yorkshire who was fined thousands of pounds after trying to keep his business open during lockdown by putting a sign in the window citing Magna Carta Article 61.
However, legal figures warned that a number of factors could fuel the growth of false theories, while extremism experts warned of potential long-term risks to the growth of activism that considered courts, authorities and government as illegitimate.
Ellie Cumbo, head of public law at the Law Society, described what was being propagated as an “extremely outdated” notion of the law that had been superseded by the modern court system and rules of civil procedure.
Regarding the entrenchment of these beliefs, she added: ‘You might wonder whether some of the government rhetoric around judges, such as during the Brexit debate and the case over the prorogation of Parliament, played into a role.”
Cumbo cited media coverage such as a Daily Mail headline describing judges during the Brexit debate as ‘enemies of the people’ as well as a description in a Home Office video – since deleted – of lawyers providing advice to migrants as “militant lawyers”. The Law Society said the description was ‘misleading and dangerous’.
Boris Johnson, who sharply criticized the Supreme Court in 2020 after judges ruled his decision to suspend parliament was unlawful, has also previously argued that delays in the criminal justice system should be blamed on “human rights lawyers”. the man on the left”.
Cumbo suggested that a civic and constitutional education program in schools, universities and adult education – recommended by the independent review of the Human Rights Act – could help counter mistrust and misinterpretations of the law.
However, others have expressed concerns about the language used by politicians and the media. Sailesh Mehta, a barrister who also sits as a part-time crown court judge, said attacks on the rule of law are a worrying trend, including the defamation of judges, lawyers, the law and political opponents.
He added: “A relatively recent variation has been an unwarranted denial of the applicability of certain laws and reliance on old, obsolete laws (or even invented law) to which the protester prefers to be bound. If enough people subscribe to this choice and mix of law approach, then there will be an erosion of the rule of law that binds all democratic societies.
Tim Squirrell, head of communications at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said the modern fake common law movement had its roots in US sovereign citizens’ movements, making their way to the UK via Canada. It had two parts, one revolving around resisting the state and the other focusing on pseudo-legal litigation to avoid paying income taxes or debts.
“It can be boiled down to saying that by some clever sleight of hand you can opt out of anything and that really resonates with a lot of the conspiratorial thinking around Covid, that the vaccine is fake, the lockdown is illegitimate and there is a duty to wake up the others.
“But the concerns about this go both ways. One is direct action in the form of harassment of politicians and others, arrests of citizens and a pseudo-legal framework. If people believe they have the power of the law, it can lead them to believe they can enforce it.
“Secondly, there is perhaps less concern in the UK that the whole movement could turn violent, but there is always the potential for individuals to take action, whether through citizen’s arrests or something else. Wherever you have real conflict with the state, there is also the potential for the creation of a martyr, especially in a feverish political environment.