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Legally irrational… and threatening

The pandemic has breathed new life into outdated laws. Increasingly, they are infiltrating Masterton courtrooms and media inboxes. MARY ARGUE reports.

Over the past couple of years, Masterton District Court lawyers have seen an uptick in defendants seeking to work outside New Zealand’s legal system – citing obscure, cherry-picked legislation when appearing before judges and magistrates.

In recent months, the Times-Age has also faced ‘legal action’ and defamation claims based on ‘common’ or ‘natural’ law from self-titled sheriffs.

A deadline for one particular $10 million claim passed at the end of last year, and a public notice was issued regarding the creditworthiness of the ‘tortfeasor’ [wrongdoer]. In this case, a Times-Age reporter.

Wairarapa barrister Fionnuala Kelly said the surge in popularity of fringe legislation could be traced to the early days of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns and mandates.

“I have seen these sorts of people appearing in the court a lot more now, citing alternative power to the court, and an alternative legal landscape.

“There has been an uprising of these ‘alternative legal thinkers’ following covid.

“And a rise of increasing currency and irrational conspiracy theories and what seems to be attacks on institutions of state and journalism.”

Kelly said she had come across “a number of self-appointed sheriffs and marshalls” in recent years, particularly in her capacity as court duty lawyer.
“I have had a number of occasions where such persons are at the court and attempt to interfere with my advice to an unrepresented client. They will be heard after my advice to that person telling them entirely contrary information which is simply untrue.”
Kelly said defendants appearing in the criminal jurisdiction have been known to cite a range of obscure laws in their defence.
“Their supposed arguments rest on the cross-pollination of nautical law, property law, tort, common law, and the like.
“The arguments do not make sense or hold water in light of clear statute and recognised constitutional law.”
Since October, Times-Age reporter George Shiers has faced a ‘commercial lien process’ to the tune of $10m, relating to articles published last year. A lien gives lawful right over a person’s property until that person has discharged a debt owed.
Over a series of articles in April, Shiers reported on documents stamped by Justices of the Peace.
The documents, which were promoted and circulated online by a person based in Eketahuna, claimed to give police powers to ‘self-appointed’ sheriffs.
Warrants for arrest were subsequently sent to former Director General of Health Sir Ashley Bloomfield, epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker, and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kero.
The documents had no legal standing.
In August, Shiers reported on an email sent to schools by a group identified as the AU AO Pacific Alliance Sheriffs.
The accompanying decrees threatened to arrest and prosecute the principals under the Sheriffs Act 1887 should they “go ahead with any vaccinations or further lockdowns or masks for children”.
Shiers subsequently received a Notice of First and Final Warning from a member of the Alliance – a New Zealand sovereign, subject to common or natural law only.
The notice said a process had been initiated to “obtain lawful remedy” for wrongs committed by Shiers, including harassment, psychological damage, and defamation of character.
According to the ‘sheriff’, who the Times-Age has chosen not to name, only the passage of 99 years, the payment of $10m [$5m for each article] and a verdict by a 12-person jury could remove the lien.
Shiers was advised to find a decent, honest, upright, honourable job.
“Instead of the thoroughly despicable, dishonest and downright fraudulent one you currently get away with.
“If you persist, you will eventually pay very dearly.
“Sincerely without ill-will, frivolity or vexation.”
Palmerston North Justice of the Peace Harold Burns allegedly witnessed the document, which was signed and dated October 19.
Burns was contacted, but declined to comment for this story.
An eight-page affidavit purporting to be a Statement of Truth followed, witnessed by Fielding Justice of the Peace [JP] Clive Asplin.
Each point required rebuttal by a certain deadline unless Shiers wished his property to be seized, and a public notice issued regarding his embroilment in the lien.
Asplin, in his 46 years of judicial experience, said the documents, in his view, lacked legal standing.
“A JP is not required to understand or read what is written, merely we ask that they swear the contents [of the document] to them, are true. You witness their oath.”
He said the documents sent to Shiers came from a “do-it-yourself-law person”.
“It lacks legal form for court purposes. If you have lawyers, they would probably laugh.”
Kelly said despite the increase in alternative legal thinkers in court, she had not seen other attempts to extract money based on common law.
“My view is that while it is legally irrational and is bullying and threatening, it would not be seen as rising to a criminal act of extortion or blackmail.”
Masterton Police Sergeant Shane Nolan said while the ‘affidavit’ and threat of ‘lawful’ asset seizure were uncommon, it was not the first of its kind.
“We get a lot of keyboard warriors that know their way decently around the law, and quite often, they will come to our attention.”
He said in his 18 years of criminal law experience, the commercial lien against Shiers did not hold water.
“Common law is dragged over from colonialism. If you dig through it, there are some very outdated things that don’t apply in modern law or acts. That is why I consider it safe to ignore any of these threats.”
Nolan said the multiple letters and threat of asset seizure, while unpleasant, were not illegal.
“They have been very careful in their language. It’s strong language, but it is pretty legal language.”
On November 28, a public notice was issued to media outlets, lending facilities, and banks regarding the commercial lien against Shiers.
“I have been subject of a wrong … thus I am lawfully able to seize goods and assets that belong to the tortfeaser, up to the amount of the commercial lien, which is sum certain $10m.
“The notice is to inform whomsoever may be concerned that the creditworthiness of this tortfeaser is, highly suspect until the lien lapses – or is, by some other means, removed.”
The ‘sheriff’ was contacted but declined to comment for this story.
To date, Shiers has not had any property seized.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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