Should you use a McKenzie Friend or not?

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Why Use A McKenzie Friend?

Over the years working as a front-line social worker, I got to know many solicitors through the family court. I was advised by one solicitor that when her practice licence was due for renewal, she had decided not to renew it and planned to start a business as a Law advisor. She said this would cut overheads as ‘lay’ advisors did not require insurance and did not have to pay the costs involved to be regulated; she added that no one could complain about her or her business if she had made a mistake.

I was intrigued by this and as I was at the time a registered Social worker, I could not see why she would even consider this. However, I am. No longer practising as a Social Worker and I now offer my services as a McKenzie friend, which basically means that I am able to help prepare case notes and get them ready for court, and also able to accompany a person (a litigant) to court and guide and support them, by taking notes, and quietly make suggestions. I am not however allowed to address the court. I decided to build my business using the skills and knowledge I developed as a Social Worker; because two of my own sons, unfortunately, we're in the position that they had to go through family court whilst making applications for Chid arrangements Orders. Because they were not entitled to legal aid and the costs of a solicitor extortionate; they were put in the horrendous position having to represent their case in court, with no knowledge about the family court process. It certainly opened my eyes up and questioned what people would do if they did not have the guidance to build their own case and were unable to write a statement.

McKenzie Friends started in 1970

The right to a McKenzie friend was developed in a 1970 case of McKenzie v McKenzie, which was a court case, and because the husband was unable to afford to use a solicitor, he, therefore, took a friend a Mr Hangar to represent him in court. The gentleman was a barrister in Australia however he was not registered to practice in UK. The Judge refused to allow Mr Hangar to assist Mr McKenzie in court. When Mr McKenzie’s case went against him, he appealed to the Court of Appeal. The court of Appeal said that the judge had been wrong, and he should have been allowed support in court. They issued an order for a retrial. The court felt that it was Mr McKenzie’s right to have some assistance in court, however, they stipulated that he could not take part in the proceedings, but merely to prompt him and offer suggestions for Mr McKenzie to make informed answers whilst being cross-examined by the wife’s barrister.

It is important to know that McKenzie friends need no formal qualifications, are not regulated and most do not have indemnity insurance. There is often no way to acknowledge if the McKenzie Friend understands the law enough to offer advice and be up to date with current affairs and legislation. This can prove problematic, as when handing over your hard-earned cash you need to know that you are in with a fighting chance of winning your case.

Over the years there have been unscrupulous people with little knowledge call themselves ‘McKenzie friends’, one such case in 2017: LFL v LSL (McKenzie Friends : breach of court orders) [2017] EWFC B62, a District Judge in Basingstoke published his reasons for excluding a McKenzie Friend from a hearing.

He recorded that:

‘At the lunchtime adjournment, there was an outburst from her, during which she would not leave the court and threatened complaints against me, the solicitor for the wife and criminal sanctions against the wife. In consequence of her outburst, which was the last in a series of interruptions, I decided that her conduct disrupted the proceedings and I excluded her from the courtroom for the rest of the hearing’.

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As when hiring any ‘expert’ for their services, it is important to be aware of the risks in order for you to make an informed decision on whether to hire them or not.

So hopefully you can now appreciate what to look for when considering hiring a McKenzie friend, to build your case and guide you through the process.

My own experience is vast, although I am not legally trained, I hold a master’s degree in Social Work and have worked within the Family Court Arena for many years. I do not take a case on unless I am confident that I can help them win their case, however, I advise at the start I cannot give guarantees as this would both be unprofessional and unrealistic. I do however choose to have indemnity insurance and I feel this protects me and my clients should they feel they have been given inappropriate advice resulting in them losing their case.

A McKenzie Friend Should Have A McKenzien Qualifications.

My advice when using a McKenzie friend is to make sure they have qualifications which prove they have the knowledge to guide you through the court system. Remember you are in charge, they are working for you, feel free to question any advice they give you.

The advantages are evident in regard to the fees charged. Not many people can afford solicitors fees. I am able to offer payment plans if necessary and

I offer a discount if unemployed. I offer fixed fees with no hidden surprises.

Ideally, everyone should be entitled to legal advice, if you feel angry that you need to represent yourself, show anger to the with the government. Or the need for Solicitors to charge unrealistic fees. As with all services, there are often cowboys, therefore if you are armed with knowledge then you can hire a McKenzie friend with ease in the know-how that they will do their best to guide you to win your own case; they are not the enemy, just another service.

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