Going to Court Without a Solicitor: What is a McKenzie Friend?
With the removal of legal aid for most family law private disputes such as divorce and sorting out the arrangements for care of the children after separation, unless there has been domestic abuse, many people find themselves contemplating whether they should go to court without a solicitor.
Those who do may decide to bring a “McKenzie Friend”
along to court. This can sometimes be confusing for the other party and can cause difficulties if the proposed McKenzie Friend is a former friend of either parties or a family member.
What is a McKenzie Friend?
The first McKenzie Friend came about in 1970 when Mr Levine McKenzie, who was going through a divorce, wanted an Australian barrister, who was not qualified to practice in the UK, to join him in court. He sat next to him, prompted questions and took notes, until he was ordered to leave the trial and sit outside. McKenzie appealed and won – the Court of Appeal accepted that he had been refused support he was entitled to receive.
McKenzie Friends are often friends, family members or charities that are brought along for support and to lend a helping hand during the court process, having someone friendly or familiar joining you helps to minimise how daunting this can be. The presumption is in favour of the court allowing a McKenzie Friend to attend a court hearing, but they can be refused if it is considered they will impede the efficient administration of justice.
In recent years, the McKenzie Friend has evolved and we're now seeing companies offering the services of McKenzie Friends for a fee
How is a McKenzie Friend Different to a Solicitor?
A McKenzie Friend is entitled to provide moral support, take notes during hearings, assist with case papers and quietly give advice, but they are not allowed to act on behalf of a litigant, are not allowed to address the court or ask questions of witnesses and are not allowed to sign papers on behalf of the litigant and liaise with the court on their behalf.
The most important difference is that they don't need to have any legal training, they are not required to adhere to professional standards and they are not covered by insurance if something goes wrong.
A report by the Legal Services Consumer Panel
into fee-charging McKenzie Friends in 2014 highlighted the main issues when using this type of support. Risks may include:
- They can be driven by their own agenda
- Offer poor quality advice – they aren't legally qualified or insured
- They may misunderstand the limits of their role and be rebuked for this in court
- Growing fees and overcharging clients
- Potential breaches of privacy, and
- They could be struck off lawyers acting as McKenzie Friends.
Regulatory bodies such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) ensure you can check the records and validity of a solicitor you intend to use. Solicitors must also be insured and you can seek redress through the Legal Services Ombudsman if you have received poor service.
Growing Need for Flexible Legal Support
The legal aid reforms in 2013 began to strip away and restrict access to legal help in areas including family, employment, and immigration law to name just a few. With thousands of people now facing the prospect of litigating in person, there now is a greater use of McKenzie Friends.
Emma Hopkins Jones, Associate Family Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar's Leeds office
, looks at the implications this has had for families:"Family disputes are in their nature often difficult and emotive, and require specialist legal support to work through bitter disputes and complex legal issues. We're now seeing people faced with managing this themselves, which both increases stress for the parties and draws out proceedings. This can be avoided with appropriate legal support.""Whilst a McKenzie Friend can offer a useful helping hand, people must remember that this is not a substitute for legal advice."
Simpson Millar's Family Law Solutions
At Simpson Millar our fixed fee options ensure you can still have access to justice
. We have a cost effective pricing structure that can be tailored to your individual case whilst giving you full certainty over your finances throughout the whole process.Our award winning team offer help with all aspects of family law issues and will provide professional, expert support to ensure your case has the best possible outcome.