What Exactly is a McKenzie Friend?

An increasing number of people are choosing to conduct their own cases in United Kingdom civil and family law courts, without the help of a solicitor or barrister. There are various reasons for this. Perhaps they cannot afford a solicitor, but are unable to apply for legal aid. Or they cannot find a suitable legal aid solicitor. They may simply feel they are able to represent themselves more accurately and effectively.

People in these situations often turn to an experienced and recommended McKenzie Friend for assistance.

What is a McKenzie Friend?
Anybody involved in a family or civil court case in the UK is entitled to represent themselves in court. A person in this situation is referred to as a Litigant in Person, often abbreviated to LIP or litigant.

A litigant may ask somebody to accompany them in court. This person is called a McKenzie Friend, after the case which set the precedent in 1970. Although it’s not a legal right, it’s very unusual for a judge to refuse a litigant the help of such a family law professional.

What is their Role?
Representing yourself in court can be a daunting process, but a specialist McKenzie Friend can make the process much simpler and that the case will be presented competently.

An efficient family law specialist has experience of court and the legal process. They can help to prepare the case before court, and will sit alongside the litigant in court.

They can assist with the following:

• Helping with the case papers
• Taking notes
• Offering moral support to the litigant
• Quietly giving advice on any aspect of the case, including points of law or procedure, issues the litigant may want to raise in court, and questions the litigant may wish to ask

There are occasions when the McKenzie Friend can speak for the litigant in court, but only if the judge has granted Rights of Audience. This only occurs in special circumstances.

What They Cannot Do
There are limits to what a McKenzie Friend can do. They cannot:

• Act as the litigant’s agent in relation to the proceedings
• Manage any aspect of the litigant’s case outside of court, for example, signing court documents on their behalf
• Address the court (unless Rights of Audience have been granted), make oral submissions, nor examine any witnesses

They must observe strict confidentiality in relation to any information they hear during the court case, and any documentation they read. Any breach of confidentiality is considered as a contempt of court, and may result in a fine or even imprisonment.

McKenzie Friends can be very useful if a litigant has no prior experience of court and requires specialist information, a little bit of confidence, moral support or help. Even if a litigant is confident about his or her case, without experienced and knowledgeable assistance they my very well not present their case in the most effective manner. Such a family law professional can also help by taking notes in court and assisting in any negotiations outside of the court.

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Sharing Mum and Dad – Channel 4 Dispatches Documentary with Tim Lovejoy

Dispatches the Channel 4 documentary programme aired a program on 14th January 2013 titled “Sharing Mum and Dad”.

Tim Lovejoy was a fantastic presenter on the documentary and for me it clearly displayed that 50/50 shared parenting is easily workable, but the grim reality for thousands of fathers in the UK is that it will currently only happen (in most cases) if the mother allows it.

Some sobering statistics from the documentary are:

  • 80% of fathers make applications to court
  • 15,000 children use contact centres
  • 90% of 1,000 people polled said “Yes” to changes being needed in family law
  • 86% of those polled said the law favoured women

The programme gave views from both sides of the argument and for me the clear problem is people with influential power such as Baroness Butler-Sloss. She says that there is no bias in the courts and family law system but then in the programme went on to say that it is “because the child lives and goes to school in one home” and “the child has to live in one place”.

These are outdated views and are damaging the lives of tens of thousands of children and the lives of many thousands of non-resident parents.

We need more programmes like the Dispatches documentary which highlights that many children are benefiting from parents that agree to share 50/50 responsibility and the current laws are allowing angry, bitter parents to alienate children from their fathers and judges are doing nothing to stop it.

Keep the debate live here and by tweeting #sharingmumdad

You can see the Dispatches program at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/articles/sharing-mum-and-dad-send-your-stories#comments-top

Posted in child rights, childrens rights, equal parenting, family court, Family Law, Fathers Rights, parental alienation, shared parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

UK In Family Breakdown Epidemic

The UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the Western world with just two thirds of children living with both parents, according to research by a global development organisation.

The UK comes only behind Belgium, Latvia and Estonia in the list of countries where both a child’s father and mother live in the same household. The analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that just 68.9 per cent of children live with both parents in the UK, well below the average of 84 per cent. The figures have been described as symptomatic of an “appalling epidemic of family breakdown” by social justice campaigners.

The lowest percentage of all was in Latvia at 64.9 per cent, while the highest was in Finland where it stood at 95.2 per cent. The UK is in contrast to other Western European countries such as Germany which stands at 82 per cent, Italy at 92.1 per cent, Spain at 91.5 per cent and France at 79.5 per cent. The United States also had a much higher number of children living with both parents, at 70.7 per cent.

The figures, which looked at the living arrangements of children aged between 0 and 14 in 30 OECD member countries, relate to 2007. They also show that the proportion of children living with their mother and not their father in the UK is 27.6 per cent, while for those living with only their father it is just 2.4 per cent. Only Latvia has a higher percentage of children living with only their mother, at 30.2 per cent.

Christian Guy, managing director at the Centre for Social Justice, said: “Timid politicians are becoming numb to Britain’s sky-high family breakdown rates. Behind too many front doors family instability damages adults and children. Yet, as these OECD figures show, broken families are not some inevitable feature of modern society or ‘social progress’. All kinds of transformational help can be offered to parents and couples when they come under life’s pressures. It is time for people who oppose things that would stem the tide of breakdown, such as backing marriage as the most stable path for children, to stop playing politics. Our forgotten families need all the help we can offer.”

Harry Benson, communications director at the Marriage Foundation, said the statistics should “convince politicians of all colours of their utter failure to deal with the central social problem of our times”. He added: “The latest UK data tells us that 450 of every 1,000 children will experience the break-up of their parents before their 16th birthday, largely the result of the trend away from marriage, in particular the collapse of unmarried families. This appalling epidemic of family breakdown costs the taxpayer at least £44 billion per year, more than the defence budget. Yet government has no policy whatsoever to reduce or prevent the continued rise. The Marriage Foundation has been established with a primary purpose to confront this very serious national issue. We will not rest until the tide has been turned.”

Article courtesy of the Independent


Posted in childrens rights, equal parenting, Family Law, Fathers Rights, parental alienation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment