10 most bizarre legal defences

By Legal Eagle

As someone who used to repossess houses for a living, I often saw some pretty odd defences. Many represented mortgagors simply denied or refused to admit almost every allegation (i.e., they did not own the house, they did not sign the mortgage, the bank did not advance them money, they did not default on the mortgage etc etc). The tactic against this was to file a summary judgment application in which you proved everything they denied. Sometimes it was pretty easy to prove the allegations the defendant was attempting to deny – particularly in one case where the mortgagor had done a full confession of everything in related criminal proceedings (doh!).

Sadly, in another case, a mortgagor pretended that she was suffering from a terminal disease and, later, that she was in a coma. However, we’d become suspicious because of inconsistencies in the story, and she’d been seen by our investigators in a perfectly healthy state that morning. Once confronted, she confessed that the whole thing was a sham.

Some defences have merit, of course: it’s important not to get jaded. I saw another case where the defendant swore she hadn’t signed those mortgages. Lo! when they got the handwriting experts in, the experts on both sides were prepared to swear that at least one third of the documents were forged.

People do things for the strangest reasons at times, and of course it’s natural that lawyers get to see some pretty odd defences (some more convincing than others). If you back people into a corner, and threaten to take away their liberty or their house, I think you’re more likely to get crazy defences. Most of the litigants in person who believe in conspiracy theories, for example, have their house or their liberty under threat.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any defences as strange as these: the 10 most bizarre defences on Oddee. As with the stories I related above, some defences were more successful than others. Anyone else have strange legal defences to relate?


    Posted April 10, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    Forgive me when I say that I do not appreciate debt collectors buying a debt from a prime corporatised agency then sending me the duff-bill of more than $500. As it happened I opened an envelope with my address in the ‘window’ without noting that the name above the address was not mine or one of my family.

    After three months of trying to sort it out I have become reasonably convinced that a debt collector, having purchased the debt from a famous utility, decided to try me for luck. In other words – fraud – identity theft – address theft to cause detriment – whatever. There is some supporting evidence that lends credence to my belief.

    What say you?

  2. Posted April 10, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Although not going so far as court, but definitely involving fines, the uni librarians published a list of bizarre claims made to try and avoid fines for late returns. I liked “I was late because the tram had a flat tyre”. (How /did/ such a stupid person make it to uni???)

    I wonder if they’ve got any better ones in the last 30 years.

  3. Posted April 10, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    My favourite was the defence of a person who was accused of growing marijuana plants on his property in the backlands of Qld.

    He admitted to having taken marijuana for personal use, but not to growing it. Instead, what he supposed must have happened is that his chickens had eaten some and then did their business and lo! a marijuana plantation.

    The neat rows – OCD chickens? – and careful irrigation system were a bit more difficult to explain. But you know chickens, darn smart creatures.


  4. Posted April 10, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    Another dope defence: when I was a very green young lawyer I often encountered a chap who thought it was a-okay to have an eight foot cannabis plant next to his mailbox in the front yard. Everyone knew he was drying and smoking it from time to time but it was also clear that it was mainly decorative. It looked good. The man was a skilled gardener. His defence? ‘The LORD made the trees and the fields and the animals, and HE saw that they were GOOD. What business, therefore, does any damn court have in interfering with the LORD’s creation?’

    [His statement was written just like that, with red allcaps in appropriate spots, like a copy of the KJV. I did try not to roll around on the courtroom floor. Really].

    [I think it’s also fair to point out that this occurred in Bundaberg, and that this chap is, ahem, ‘known to the authorities’, for those legal readers from central Queensland].

  5. Posted April 11, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: Actually, my mind acts like an overclocked PC (even to the point that rats are being “cured” with subcranial refrigeration just like overclocked PCs need extra cooling systems) and goes on the fritz – post ictal or during partial seizures I’m scrambled, but otherwise I’m smarter than the average bear.

    More generally, I wonder how often the “god told me to do it” excuse has been used – and how the courts handled it: insanity? (what’s the differential diagnosis between a prophet and a schizophrenic?) an atheist judgement? or a more theological refutation based on difference between the accused and accepted scripture (which, let’s face it, is internally inconsistent anyway – so proving an act is inconsistent with scripture is a big ask).

  6. Posted April 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised there was no mention of the original Twinkie Defence.

  7. Posted April 11, 2010 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Found a new one. Hard to top this!

  8. Posted April 12, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, in another case, a mortgagor pretended that she was suffering from a terminal disease and, later, that she was in a coma. However, we’d become suspicious because of inconsistencies in the story, and she’d been seen by our investigators in a perfectly healthy state that morning.
    Her coma comes and goes. 🙂

  9. Posted April 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link – bizarre defences and some bizarre verdicts too!

  10. Posted April 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] (on {woo label of choice} made me do it) said:

    (eg, performing miracles in court etc).

    Hmmm. I’d imagine that woo-made-me-do-it claims are common enough (I’d imagine more often than not in murder cases) that courts should have guidelines or defined criteria just as they do for “death” or “aggravated assault”… (Hmmm… “sun rose this morning not a miracle”… “faith healing reverses an amputation… definite miracle”).

    Of course, where the anti-woman’s-choice murderers are registered preachers, their word would have theological weight, and thus one should be able to whack the deity (or those claiming to be authorized representatives) with an incitement-to-violence suit.

    As there is no difference between the signs and symptoms of a religious experience and those of a psychotic episode… hmmmm. Does this make all those with the fundy/pentecostal-like “direct experience” (esp if regularly occurring experiences) unreliable witnesses, just like the evidence of a psychotic with frequent hallucinations would be discounted?

    Oh, and if it is “devil made me do it”, I’m imagining a “Devil’s advocate” suing the defendant against such a calumny.

    So… on the UFO/Bigfoot excuses… I wonder if courts assume supernatural beings are more reasonable than plausible beings?

  11. mindbender
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    how about this…i know someone who is having her property taken and being left homeless because of a presumtion that there was motor car accedent resulting in damages…however, that never occured and because she has no money, she cant afford a lawyer and has lost her home over something that just never happened. can anyone help her? she is getting evicted soon. in a couple of weeks i think. this is only the tip of the iceburg apparently. there is curruption in the courts as well – so it seems.

  12. mindbender
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    appologies for my spelling (last comment) it is late at night and i am tired. good night. x

  13. Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I was acting in an admin law debt matter, against an appellant who had already exhausted several layers of review and hadn’t quite got the message. He was on the phone from O/S, where not doubt he was considering his residency options while waiting to see if the forces of evil would relent and waive the debt.

    So he couldn’t see the tribunal or its reactions.

    He suddenly launched into a hysterical rant about how the government were like the Nazis and his situation was as bad as a victim of the holocaust. You might think I’d call on godwins, or otherwise seek to shut this rant down, however I merely put my head down and took notes. See the problem with this argument, apart from its abject stupidity, was that the tribunal member had a name that told stories of its own. Let’s say it sounded a bit like Goldman or Eisner or similar.

    I glanced up and saw the member had stopped taking notes, and had a cloud forming behind his eyes.

    Incredibly, the appeal failed and the forces of evil triumphed.

  14. Posted May 20, 2010 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Sorry it’s not a defence but I just wanted to join in.

  15. Nick Ferrett
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I had a great one a few years ago. Acted for a mortgage lender who had gone to repossess only to be met with a defence by the mortgagee that he had never given a mortgage over his property. Investigations were undertaken and it became apparent that the mortgage broker who had initiated the loan had only ever taken photocopies of documents and had totally stuffed up the id checks. The signature on the form looked nothing like that of the mortgagee. Document experts concluded that they were all forgeries. Mortgage lender got advice that they had no hope of winning against the mortgagee because the mortgage only secured amounts owing by the mortgagee and given that he had never borrowed anything, the mortgage secured nothing (bye-bye indefeasibility of title). Mortgage lender settles.

    Investigations are undertaken. Fraudster is identified. Police prosecute. It becomes apparent that the fraudster had been in league with the mortgagee. Mortgagee had allowed fraudster to pretend to be the owner when the lender’s valuer came around. Then had to sue the mortgagee having settled with him alleging that the compromise was obtained by fraud.

  16. Posted May 20, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Nick, do you mean ‘mortgagor’ where you’ve got ‘mortgagee’ in that?

  17. Nick Ferrett
    Posted May 20, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink


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