This article originally appeared in The Skeptic, Volume 26, Issue 2, from 2016.
You’ve seen the signs, they’ve certainly been cropping up all over the country. Billboards exclaiming “LEGAL NAME FRAUD, THE TRUTH, IT IS ILLEGAL TO USE A LEGAL NAME”. In fairness lawyers don’t usually buy expensive advertising space to explain the law to people, people come to us with their problems and we try our best to help them navigate what can often be a very difficult legal landscape. We wouldn’t advertise “BURGLARY, THE TRUTH, IT IS ILLEGAL TO BURGLE”.
Now I think I know what a Legal Name is (hint: your birth certificate or marriage certificate is a good start). What I was unaware of – until I read these adverts – was that it was illegal to use one… which does sound rather oxymoronic. Would I have to brace myself for the influx of people charged with illegally using a legal name? Of course the law does change all the time. Did I miss the memo outlining this new criminal offence? I thought I had better check. I couldn’t find this purported new crime in the text books, in any statutory instruments or any case law. A search of legal journals, articles and text books on Westlaw returned the following response: No documents satisfy your query.
So, perplexed, I used the next best research tool available, Google, and I was directed to legalnamefraud.net. There I entered the rabbit hole. Almost literally, in fact, as one link on the homepage unironically welcomes you to the rabbit hole – at the same time as telling the visitor how to get off driving penalties (but it’ll cost you at least $67 for an ebook). The homepage appears to be a gateway to a number of linked sites such as Truthbillboards.net, Losethename.com, Kateofgaia.wordpress.com, Phoenixisrisen.co.uk and a handful of others. Most, if not all, of which seem to be run by someone who calls herself Kate of Gaia. Apparently based in Canada, Kate is on Twitter and describes herself as a singer-songwriter, freelance journalist, researcher, writer and broadcaster at Legal Name Fraud Radio. Lawyer, she is not.
I delved deeper into her site. There I was confronted with page after page of highly detailed stream of consciousness pseudo-law peppered with Biblical references and a large dose of conspiracy theory. The gist seems to be this: once your parents sign your birth certificate they are creating a legal fiction. The name on the certificate sounds like you but it isn’t you. By signing the certificate ownership of the name passes to the Crown. The Crown therefore owns you. Using your own name without written permission from the Crown is therefore fraudulent. But – and this is the good news – you didn’t consent to this fraud (how could you, you were a baby!). Therefore any duties you owe to the Crown are null and void, their civil and criminal laws don’t apply to you and, hey presto, you have a get out of jail free card! Or something like that. Here’s a flavour of the reasoning:
“In laymen’s terms, the clausula rebis sic stantibus is the escape clause where a FUNDAMENTAL change in circumstances renders contracts/treaties etc. null and void…the fundamental change moment?… it’s illegal to be legal anything, mind, body, spirit. The original Birth Certificate contract is the PROOF and EVIDENCE of a clear and present INTENT to deceive another by it’s mere existence… registry buildings are proof of intent to foment this deception… everything created to put this fraud into practice is proof of fraud intent ab initio (since before it was ACT-DEAD upon where you are ACT-DEAD until truth is ACT-DEED… when you throw down, with force, the dead legal name (all ideas ATTACHED/attacked to it), with intent to destroy that from your reality, the real Shemitah/CRSS comes into full force and effect.”
Granted, Kate has used some Latin so it sounds superficially legal (even though it’s misspelt, it should be ‘rebus’, though that’s probably me being overly picky). She uses words such as proof, evidence and intent which admittedly are all frequently used legal terms. There the similarity to actual law ends.
Kate has published reams of this guff online. The caps lock and alliteration are red flags. This is not law. In much the same way that Deepak Chopra parroting the word quantum won’t get him a job interview at CERN, Kate of Gaia’s legal expertise is unlikely to get her appointed to the Supreme Court of any jurisdiction. What she espouses is the stock in trade of the Freemen on the Land movement. Sadly this is not some harmless crank theory. People have actually relied on this nonsense in courts in the UK, Canada and the US.
‘Freemen’ try to argue that when sued for debt they don’t actually owe money because the contracts are made in their legal name which, of course, doesn’t mean them. They try to argue that the courts don’t actually have jurisdiction over them because they haven’t consented to that jurisdiction. Their legal argument is, in effect, that they are above the law. This tends to rub actual Judges up the wrong way. As far as I’m aware, every one of these arguments have failed. In some cases those advancing them end up in jail for contempt or police obstruction. Use them in court and the case will not go well for you at all. This is what Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rooke of the Alberta Queen’s Bench had to say in a mammoth judgement deconstructing the Freemen arguments in the case of Mead v Mead:
 It does not matter whether you frame your business as a joke, religion, for educational purposes only, or as not being legal advice; your business harms your naïve or malicious customers, their families, and the innocent persons whom your customers abuse as they attempt to exercise what you have told them are their rights. You cannot identify one instance where a court has rolled over and behaved as told. Not one. Your spells, when cast, fail.
So why are these billboards popping up all over the UK? That’s unclear, but one thing is for sure, many perplexed people would have been googling the “Truth” and ended up at one of Kate’s sites. Some may even have read Kate’s musings.
However, beware of following the advice.
This article originally appeared in The Skeptic, Volume 26, Number 2