Litigants in Person (those representing themselves) have had a right to reasonable assistance in court from a layperson, known as a McKenzie Friend, for over 50 years. Traditionally this role has been assumed by a family member, friend, or volunteer, however, in recent years there has been a rise in McKenzie Friends offering their services on a paid-for basis. The significant increase in the number of professional McKenzie Friends has raised concerns in the legal sector about the burgeoning role of these unqualified legal advisers in civil proceedings.
What is a McKenzie Friend
McKenzie Friends are permitted to provide moral support for litigants, take notes, help with case papers and quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case. McKenzie Friends cannot conduct litigation or represent individuals at Court unless the judge gives permission where there are exceptional circumstances.
Professional McKenzie Friends - Risks
Professional McKenzie Friends are not subject to any minimum requirements in respect of their qualifications, training or legal experience and their conduct is unregulated. This provides an opportunity for unscrupulous professional McKenzie Friends without the requisite experience and knowledge to charge vulnerable litigants for poor quality legal services.
Whilst solicitors are required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to take out professional indemnity insurance, McKenzie Friends are not subject to such requirements, often leaving vulnerable individuals with no effective remedy for poor advice and poor service. There is also no independent complaints’ service which oversees the conduct of a professional McKenzie Friend.
The risks posed by professional McKenzie Friends are best demonstrated in the recent case of David Bright, a paid McKenzie Friend, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison for perverting the course of justice. Mr Bright submitted a psychology report during a family dispute that had been compiled by his colleague and partner, Claire Mann, who had falsely claimed to be a clinical psychologist. The Court heard that the litigant concerned had been emotionally and financially affected by the case and had lost contact with his children as a result of Mr Bright’s actions.
The requirement for reform in this area has been acknowledged by the legal sector and a consultation by the Judicial Executive Board was conducted last year on the issue of paid McKenzie Friends. The consultation proposed a ban on professional McKenzie Friends and recommended that all McKenzie Friends sign up to a code of conduct to govern their activities. The judiciary have yet to confirm a date for their published report on McKenzie Friends.
If you have any questions relating to anything covered in this article, please contact our Litigation & Dispute Resolution Team on 01603 610911.
Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.