Duncan Lewis

Family Law

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McKenzie friends- their role

Date: (13 January 2012)    |    

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Duncan Lewis:McKenzie friends are supplied through the network of volunteers run by FNF (Families Need Fathers), and the name is derived from the McKenzie vs. McKenzie case in 1970, and has its origins in common law.

‘McKenzie friend’ is a term now formally incorporated into legal guidance and statutory instruments to denote people who assist litigants through the litigation process in person, assisting them in such matters as completing forms, preparing statement and strategies and going with them to court.

The majority of volunteers who traditionally assist with this type of work may simply not have the time to be as effective as they would like to be, and other dubious characters often step in, often for a fee, and offer comprehensive litigation support and even undertaking legal work despite having no professional qualifications. McKenzie friends offer parents a low-cost, reliable service in litigation cases and puts at their disposal knowledgeable professionals helping as volunteers.

Litigants acting in person are usually entitled to the help of a McKenzie friend, and this is supported by case law. In past judgments, it has been ruled that litigants could only be refused the right to such assistance in exceptional circumstances. The same court that passed the judgement also ruled that a Mckenzie friend be allowed to inspect court papers.

In order to work alongside a McKenzie friend during proceedings, you need simply to inform the court and the other party by letter of the fact beforehand, possibly also mentioning that their identity has not yet been established. The Mckenzie friend should also provide a brief CV to the court, although this is not strictly necessary despite the Court of Appeal recommending it. When contacting the court, inform them that the friend has no personal involvement in the case and that he or she has read and understands the confidentiality rules that govern family proceedings. A judge will be reassured if the friend has performed a similar role in the past and knows how to behave in court.

A Mckenzie friend may have legal training as a solicitor or barrister and is not necessarily a friend, and the judge will make the final decision on whether they are to be admitted into the court proceedings.

How far McKenzie friends are now routinely admitted to help out in litigation cases can be seen from the fact that the Family Proceedings Rules of 1991 have been amended to specifically allow them to participate in court proceedings and have access to court documents.

Mckenzie friends are a unique and valuable group of people who make their professional legal knowledge available on a voluntary basis to litigants who need help in court with all the complications of the procedure, paperwork and legal jargon. They help prepare strategies and assist in any way they can without charging for their assistance and usually attend court many times during the course of proceedings.

If you think you could benefit from having the assistance of a McKenzie friend, talk to family and childcare solicitors such as Duncan Lewis for impartial help and advice on this and many other matters.