McKenzie Friends – why approach them with caution

McKenzie Friends are people who accompany parties in court proceedings to provide support and assistance where the party cannot or will not obtain legal representation through a solicitor or barrister. It is important to be aware that whilst McKenzie friends can provide support, assist with note taking and provide some level of advice, they cannot act for a person in the way that a solicitor or barrister can. A McKenzie Friend is not allowed to address the court directly on behalf of the party and cannot deal with a party’s case or manage it in any way for the party outside of the proceedings. This differs significantly from the parameters afforded to solicitors and barristers who can address the Court directly and put forward their client’s case on their behalf as well as signing documents and managing their cases for them.

It is up to the court to consider whether the party should receive assistance and support from a McKenzie Friend for example if the court considers a McKenzie Friend to be unreasonable at the start of a hearing as the McKenzie Friend may give, has given or is giving assistance which impedes the efficient administration of justice. If the court considers that the McKenzie Friend is providing assistance for an improper purpose, or if the assistance is unreasonable in nature or degree or if the McKenzie Friend is directly or indirectly conducting the litigation or if the court is not satisfied that the McKenzie Friend fully understands the duty of confidentiality, the Court can refuse to allow the McKenzie Friend’s assistance.

Whilst the principle of McKenzie Friends is good as it provides a compromise between representing yourself and paying for legal representation, McKenzie Friends are not lawyers and should not be thought of as such. McKenzie Friends are not governed or regulated by any authority or body, unlike solicitors and barristers. More recently, cases involving McKenzie Friends has highlighted the level of caution that must be taken. In the case of Re Baggaley [2015] the court made a civil restraining order against the McKenzie Friend for threats to the other party’s barrister and solicitor.

In a very recent case which remains ongoing, David Bright, a McKenzie Friend from “The Parent’s Voice” together with an accomplice, faces a sentence after being found guilty of submitting a false report written by someone claiming to be a psychologist during a family dispute earlier this year. It transpired that the author of the report was, in fact, his work colleague at The Parent’s Voice who will also be sentenced after pleading guilty.

Having said the above, there are of course plenty of knowledgeable and experienced McKenzie Friends nationally, some of whom are professionally trained. Done correctly and in the right hands, a McKenzie Friend can prove to be extremely helpful and supportive.

If you would like to discuss your case and the possibility of being legally represented at court in your family matter, contact us for a free consultation with a solicitor. Serving Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes, our lawyers can help you with your family law and divorce matters.

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