What Are McKenzie Friends And When Should You Risk Using One?
Posted on 31st March 2020
With costs being cut and funding withdrawn across the board, McKenzie Friends are becoming more and more common in cases. MG Legal, your Solicitors Longridge, have looked at the role of McKenzie Friends as an alternative to a Solicitor.
A McKenzie friend is someone who assists any person in Court Proceeding who does not have a Solicitor or Barrister representing them. Unrepresented parties are known a Litigants in Person (LiP) and are, therefore, representing themselves, which is their right if they decline to instruct a Solicitor. The McKenzie Friend is not generally permitted to address the Court, although on occasion the Court can grant permission for them to do so.
McKenzie friends were established, unsurprisingly, from a 1970 Family Court case of McKenzie v McKenzie, where Mr and Mrs McKenzie were being divorced. Mr McKenzie parted ways with his solicitor due to his legal aid being withdrawn and proceeded as a LiP to the final Hearing.
Prior to the Hearing, Mr McKenzie’s former Solicitor sent the file of papers to an Australian Barrister, Mr Ian Hanger. Mr Hangar, having qualified to practise in Australia, was not afforded a Right of Audience as a Legal Representative but attended the Hearing in the hope of providing informal advice and support during the Hearing.
The Judge at the Hearing refused permission for Mr Hangar to assist, save for advising Mr McKenzie during adjournments. Mr McKenzie fared badly at the Trial and so took his case to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that he had been denied representation at the Hearing.
The Court of Appeal concurred with Mr McKenzie and he was granted a Retrial. The use of McKenzie Friends in all types of Civil Proceedings has since been confirmed, with the Family Court doing so in 2005 following another Court of Appeal case.
Who can be a McKenzie Friend?
Basically, anyone can be a McKenzie Friend, as long as they are invited by the named party in Proceedings it is highly unusual for the Court to deny them permission to be there.
The drawbacks of McKenzie Friends
Herein lies the problem with many McKenzie Friends, in that they do not need to have any legal qualifications or even experience. There is a line between bringing a close, trusted friend to the Hearing for moral support and as a ‘sounding board’ and having a Legal Representative. however, all too often McKenzie Friends are placed on something of a pedestal and today, there are many agencies around who offer McKenzie Friends as a paid service.
Personal friends and family members might come free, or perhaps their price will be a decent lunch, plus they know you and your side of the case, it is also likely they are to some degree emotionally invested too and so you would be denied the impartial advice or someone unconnected to the case.
Even though you might pay for a McKenzie Friend, they are not generally qualified to give advice and whilst they may have more experience of the situation than you, they have no professional body to whom they are accountable, no formal training to go through and so, if they provide bad advice or steer you in the wrong direction, there is no recourse to pursue them for any losses or damage.
There have even been cases where McKenzie Friends have so overstepped the mark that they have interfered with the running of a case, obtained so-called Expert Evidence from a non-expert source and conducted the majority of the Litigation themselves, as if there were a Solicitor. The opposite side of the coin is that McKenzie Friends can fail to prepare, arrive unfamiliar with the case and provide inaccurate advice to the Party they are meant to be assisting.
No substitute for a Solicitor or Barrister
MG Legal, your Solicitors Longridge, will never send a McKenzie Friend to a Hearing with you, it will only be a suitably qualified person from our offices, or a reputable Barrister we have chosen. Solicitors and Barristers are fully qualified, have a governing body and in the case of a Solicitor, they have likely had conduct of the file from the start. Barristers are provide with papers and a “brief” advising them of the nature of the file, the Hearing and it is generally the case that Solicitors will speak to a Barrister prior to the Hearing to ensure all is properly understood and that a strategy for the Hearing is in place.
Following the Hearing, you will be given a report or letter from your Solicitor as to the outcome of the Hearing, any future steps that must be taken and a way to proceed in the case in general.
You get what you pay for – just how important is your case?
It is generally true that you get what you pay for and so, if you wish to pay a McKenzie Friend to assist you, the cost for a single Hearing will generally be a few hundred pounds. It is also worth noting that McKenzie Friends are not deemed to be Legal Representatives and so, whilst they can bill you, the amount you can recover from your opponent (if recovery of costs is Applicable) will be limited to fixed Litigant in Person costs, a fraction of the sum you have likely been charged.
In some cases, if you are successful, you can recover Solicitor’s and Barrister’s fees from your opponent. Whilst formal representatives might charge a little more, usually between £140.00 and £200.00 per hour, their expertise comes with that price and with much greater things at stake, this is surely a worthwhile investment.
Maybe we’re blowing our own trumpet or perhaps it is the years of learning, training and experience talking, but we don’t think there is a better choice than using a formal representative.
If you have any kind of matter that you require legal advice and representation upon, contact MG Legal, your Solicitors Longridge, to discuss your case. We offer Conditional Fee Agreements (no win, no fee agreements) for all Personal Injury matters and for our other departments; Family & Children, Property and Wills, Powers of Attorney and Probate matters we can usually offer a fixed fee instruction.
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