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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.