If someone were to claim land they owned in the UK as an independent nation, and therefore refused to pay taxes or comply with building regulations, what laws would be broken and what legal action might be taken against such a person?


4 Answers 4


Claiming to be independent is probably not a crime: the family that say they have set up the Principality of Sealand have never been prosecuted (though that may have something to do with the difficulty of arresting them). It does not, however, excuse a British subject from the ordinary duties of paying taxes and the like; anyone in a more accessible (and more clearly British) part of the country would be subject to the normal forms of law enforcement, including imprisonment for contempt of court if they refused to obey court orders. Despite the more eccentric theories of the 'sovereign citizen' movement (who do exist in the UK), the fact that somebody living in Britain is subject to British laws is not open to negotiation.

Resisting this law enforcement by force would not be a good idea: as well as the fact that the Government has access to bigger and better armed forces than you do, it would probably render you guilty of treason. The Treason Act 1351 (as amended and translated) makes it illegal to "levy war against our lord the King in his realm, or be adherent to the King's enemies in his realm, giving to them aid and comfort in the realm, or elsewhere"; the good news is that the death penalty for treason was abolished in 1998 (some time after that for murder).


There is no law which allows a person to seced from the UK and declare themselves an independent nation, even if they own some piece of land. Assuming that the person has the military might to enforce their declaration of independence, they can establish whatever legal system they want (again, with the proviso that they would have to defend themselves in case some other nation took umbrage). They could then declare that all penalties for no-payment of tax or non-filing of permits are null and void. The government of the country that the person used to be in might seek to enforce those laws, so there is, yet again, the question of having the military might to defend one's sovereignty.


If someone were to claim land they owned in the UK as an independent nation, and therefore refused to pay taxes or comply with building regulations, what laws would be broken and what legal action might be taken against such a person?

To start with, they would be responsible for criminal and civil penalties for willfully not paying taxes and for willfully not complying with building regulations. I concur that it would also probably constitute a confessed crime of treason, and many lesser related crimes (e.g. obstructing governmental operations).

A claim of sovereignty would also, strictly speaking, be an act of war, and would provide a valid justification for using all necessary military force to end the claim of independence up to and including killing all persons claiming to be officials of the nation, forcing all other residents of the micronation into concentration camps pending determination of their loyalties, confiscating all property of the micronation and its officials, and destroying all structures and personal property in the alleged micronation with ordinance, without any sort of trial or due process, and only the most minimal warning.

On the bright side, while pillaging is still authorized by the laws of war, raping is now considered a war crime.

  • 2
    Rape is now considered a war crime ... truly we live in an enlightened age! ;)
    – feetwet
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 23:19
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    @feetwet actually the fact that we have "war crimes" as opposed to "I won, I do what I want" is pretty enlightened
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 23:24
  • Can you cite some authority for the UK government's power to kill officials, destroy property and detain residents to put down a rebellion? Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 10:39
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    @Patrick: Any "objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage." is a legitimate military target according to the Geneva Convention: rebellion is an act of war. Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 18:00
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    @Patrick: No, normal laws do not apply in war, and never have ('silent leges inter armis', according to Cicero), quite apart from the point that these hypothetical rebels have deliberately and forcefully put themselves outside the protection of British law. Some rules do apply in war (if the army concerned decides to abide by them), but they are outside the scope of Law.SE Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 12:12

If someone were to claim land they owned in the UK as an independent nation, and therefore refused to pay taxes or comply with building regulations, what laws would be broken and what legal action might be taken against such a person?

The claim would be disregarded and you would be prosecuted as any British citizen who committed the same offense. This is about what happened with Sealand - they were first ignored, then government demanded they follow British law regardless, and finally marines showed up and chased them out. I wouldn't even consider this a formal military engagement - it was more of a police action assisted by the military. There is no evidence that Britain regarded it as anything else. I believe the government's position was that the platform was old government property that they decided to scuttle because it was not safe anymore, the Sealanders were squatters, and needed to leave. Other micro-nations fared similarly.

There is not much law on micro-nation formation, and what law there is, is not very helpful. Governments regard claims of de jure sovereignty as a joke. The laws are all formed after the fact, the only real law is de facto sovereignty. Let's imagine for a second the Queen had an aneurysm and decided to recognize your sovereignty. You are now an enclave in Britain, a powerful country, with no allies or power of your own. Britain might demand you to accept treaties that you really don't like - it is already common for powerful nations to demand economic or political concessions from weaker countries in the developing world. The main defense of the said weaker countries is other powerful countries who also want concessions, but which are mutually exclusive with the other ones, which forces the two would-be hegemons to work out some solution between themselves (but also sometimes wreck the weaker country in question with proxy wars). As a newly formed micro-nation, you have little diplomatic value to any enemies or rivals of Britain, so Britain will be free to run roughshod over your "rights". Britain even has UN veto power, while you wouldn't be in the UN at all. Another possibility is if the British citizens strongly favor fair treatment of your micronation and actually act on it (by voting). Without that popularity, you're out of luck. Even if you did have popular support, the logical consequence is that everyone else will start "seceding" to avoid paying tax, which threatens UK's own stability - even voting will not be enough, nothing short of armed rebellion would prevent the government from trying to crush you. In any case, at some point they will get tired of diplomacy and simply invade and annex you. Without allies on the international scene, nobody will care much, and that will be that for your endeavor. You would be prosecuted as a British citizen purely for the sake of simplicity.

Looking at successful, actual micro-nations further supports the idea that only de facto sovereignty matters. Countries like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Monaco were all formed with support from the biggest powers of the time. Often a war, and an ensuing treaty where the powers could not agree on who should get the land, served as a catalyst. So the most realistic way of seceding from Britain would be to have your own local government and society, then wait for UK to lose a war, and hope that the victors decide they'd rather you be your own country.

  • Sealand was established in international waters, before the UK extended its territorial waters, which somewhat complicates the legal analysis.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 18:21

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