The Straw Man

Posted on Jul 26, 2017 | 0 comments


Leonard Casley (aka Prince Leonard of Hutt) was a wheat farmer.  In 1970 he was aggrieved by the wheat quotas allocated to his business.  He served a notice of secession on the Western Australian Premier, the Governor, the Prime Minister and the Governor General.  He also notified the Queen.  Since then he has taken other steps which he believes are the acts of an independent sovereign state (referred to by Wikipedia as a “micro-nation”) including declaring war on Australia. The Hutt River Province has its own passports and currency (probably one of the problems).

Since then Prince Leonard (and his son) have accumulated tax debts of over $3M. There were a number of interesting arguments advanced in the WA Supreme Court in defence of the ATO’s recovery action [2017] WASC 161:

  1. Firstly that the court has no jurisdiction over them or no jurisdiction to hear these claims.  In essence, they say that the land on which they reside is part of the Principality of Hutt River which seceded from Australia and is no longer part of Australia, that they are the sovereign or a citizen of Hutt River, a sovereign independent state, they are not residents of Australia, the laws of Australia and in particular the taxation laws do not apply to them and this court has no jurisdiction over them; and
  2. Secondly, the strange pseudo‑legal straw man theory.  The theory holds that an individual has two personas, one of himself as a real flesh and blood human being and the other, a separate legal personality who is the straw man.  The idea is that an individual’s debts, liabilities, taxes and legal responsibilities belong to the straw man rather than the physical individual who incurred those obligations, conveniently allowing one to escape their debts and responsibilities.  [if only it were that easy!]

The first argument failed in 2007 when the Prince tried to remove proceedings (also involving payment of tax) from the Geraldton Magistrate’s Court to the High Court (Heydon J said the argument was “fatuous, frivolous and vexatious”). The second didn’t fare much better with Justice Le Miere saying it was “all gobbledygook”.

Shout out to Alan Blank of my chambers for telling me about this decision.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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