What is a McKenzie Friend?
A McKenzie Friend is somebody who is assisting one of the parties in a family law court, who is acting without legal representation. It could be a good friend, there for moral support or a professional. Their role will be to take notes, organise documents, make suggestions to the person they are helping and generally assist their “friend” in court. It should be noted however that they should not be regarded as a lay-advocate and have no right to address the court.
Reasons to have a McKenzie Friend
- You can’t afford a solicitor or don’t wish to appoint one.
- You can’t afford the legal fees.
- You are not entitled to legal aid.
- You want to represent yourself in court.
How best to use your McKenzie Friend
It will help them and you if they are brought into the process early to help them gain a greater understanding of the law and of your particular case. If you have little knowledge of the court procedure and what is involved, it obviously helps to have a McKenzie Friend with more of an idea of the legal system, who will not feel overawed in court. Ideally it should be somebody with more legal knowledge than you, who is able to give moral as well as practical support. They should also perhaps be prepared to be at your side throughout the process attending pre-trial meetings and other court appearances.
The courts do not usually object to one of the parties in a court hearing having a McKenzie Friend with them. It is rare that they would be refused and courts actually tend to prefer it, as it can help the case proceed quicker if both parties understand fully what is going on. The only proviso is that the friend cannot address the court directly, though of course they may if the judge invites them to do so.
Recent court advice
The most recent court guidance on McKenzie Friends states that litigants have the right to receive reasonable assistance from a layperson who, nevertheless, have no right to act as advocates or to carry out the conduct of litigation. They must not act as the litigant’s agent in relation to the proceedings and should not manage the case outside of the courtroom.
The guidance also says that the court should retain the right to refuse the permission to use a McKenzie Friend in some circumstances, though it should only do so if it believed that in the interests of justice and fairness, the litigant should not receive this assistance. It is also suggested that when wanting to have a McKenzie Friend, the litigant should inform the court as soon as possible and added that it is a good idea for the “friend” to produce a short curriculum vitae detailing their experience and confirming that they have no interest in the case and also that they understand their prospective role and their duty of confidentiality.