A McKenzie Friend is someone who comes to Court with you to help. They are called that because of an old case that gave rise to the principal that someone who did not have a lawyer could take someone along to Court to help them. They can usually come into Court with you and be with you when you are speaking to other lawyers at Court.
For example, you might ask someone you know who has been to Court before, or a relative or someone else who will be able to support you in and out of Court. There are also people who are professional McKenzie Friends - they charge money for their services and I will say something about them later on this page. They might be someone who is involved with a particular group, for example Families Need Father, Father's For Justice or Mother's for Justice etc.
If you take someone along to Court with you as a McKenzie Friend then generally speaking, apart from exceptional circumstances, the Judge must let them into Court and sit next to you during any hearing. They are allowed to speak to you during the hearing and to support you during the hearing.
It is very unlikely that you would be allowed a McKenzie Friend and a lawyer at the same time.
What can a McKenzie Friend do?
There is guidance on what McKenzie Friends can and cannot do. You can download the full guidance here. This is a summary:
McKenzie Friends can:
1. Provide moral support
2. Take notes
3. Quietly give advice
4. Help with case papers
McKenzie Friends are not allowed to:
1. Speak in Court (i.e. do the advocacy in Court, ask questions and speak to the judge)
2. Act as an agent (which means answer letters, issue proceedings etc)
3. Manage the case outside Court (i.e. negotiate with the lawyers or other side etc)
4. Conduct litigation (do what solicitors do)
The Guidance says that the Court will only grant permission to a McKenzie Friend to do the things they are not usually allowed to do (for example, speak in the Court room or ask questions) in exceptional circumstances.
Why Can't a McKenzie Friend do things Lawyers Can?
There are a number of reasons why McKenzie Friends cannot do all the things a lawyer can do. Some of them are:
1. A lawyer has been through training to represent people in Court (normally at least five years) and Parliament has decided that only people who have been trained should be allowed to act as advocates etc in Court.
2. Solicitors and Barrister are regulated. In other words, there are organisations that you can complain to if you think you have been poorly served by a lawyer. There are no organisations that regulate the activities of McKenzie Friends.
3. There are codes of conduct that apply to Solicitors and Barristers. There are no codes of conduct that apply to McKenzie Friends. For example, a lawyer is not allowed to lie to a Court in behalf of a client (i.e. say something to the Court that their client has told them is not true or allow the Court to believe something which their client has told them is not true) and it is a serious breach of the codes of conduct if they do. There are no such rules governing what McKenzie Friends can say.
4. If you have a Solicitor or a Barrister then they must be insured, which means if they make a mistake you can sue them for compensation. There is no insurance for McKenzie Friends so even if you did sue them for a mistake, they may not have the money to pay.
Should I pay for a McKenzie Friend?
Like so much else, the answer to this question depends on many things, not least 'how much' and 'what for'?
I can perhaps best answer this question by been upfront about my own views and experiences.
I have been involved in cases with people from organisations (e.g. Families Need Fathers) who have done an excellent job helping their 'clients' at Court by giving them sensible and reasonable advice whilst the case is ongoing. They charge a reasonable rate for being there basically to cover expenses and time and have experience of what Judges are likely to do. They have provided immeasurable help to people by giving objective advice and helping the person they are supporting tell the Court what they want in a way that is clearer and better than they would have done had they been on their own. I can think of several who I see on a fairly regular basis that have always conducted themselves in an honest, thoughtful and helpful way and by doing so have helped people achieve more success than they would have done had they been at Court on their own.
Likewise I have had experience of McKenzie Friends who have charged what I consider to be wholly unreasonable amounts of money (as much a a lawyer would have charged) and made their client's case considerably worse.
It is of course true that I have had experience of lawyers who do not do a particularly good job, although not as often.
I would suggest that if you are thinking of paying a McKenzie Friend to help you in Court it is worth asking yourself the following things:
1. How much will it cost me?
2. What will I get for my money?
3. How much experience do they have?
4. Have they been recommended by someone?
5. Could I get a trained professional (Barrister or Solicitor) for a similar amount of money?
6. What would a trained professional be able to do that a McKenzie Friend could not (e.g. speak in court)?
I would also take a look at the "Do I Need a Lawyer" page and ask the same questions of any possible McKenzie Friend that I suggest you should ask a lawyer.
Who should I choose as a McKenzie Friend?
If you are thinking of taking along a 'friend' or relative to be a McKenzie Friend in Court, it might be helpful to think about who would best fits the bill.
Generally, it might be less helpful to take someone who is very close to you or is in some way connected to the outcome. That is because they are likely to agree with everything you say and not see all points of view. One of the things I do when I am preparing for a case is to think about all the arguments that the other side might come up with. This can be more difficult to do if you are too emotionally connected to the person who you are trying to help or if you have something to gain from the outcome, in an emotional or financial sense. For example, I have been involved in a case where the mother brought along her new husband as her McKenzie Friend. He disliked mum's previous partner and so was unable to consider the possibility that he might be telling the truth and that his wife was not being completely honest. This lead to him advising his wife badly and as a result the mum's previous partner ended up with a much better result than would have been the case had mum taken a more reasonable and considered stance. Generally it is a bad idea to have someone advising you that is likely to agree with everything you say!