What are McKenzie Friends?
A McKenzie friend is the term used to describe anyone who accompanies another person who is representing themselves in court to ensure they have 'reasonable assistance'. The name McKenzie Friends comes from the case of McKenzie v Mckenzie which was a court case in the early 1970s. Mr and Mrs McKenzie were negotiating the terms of their divorce and Mr McKenzie, having lost his legal aid just before he went to court and being unable to afford representation, came to court accompanied by an Australian barrister provided by his former solicitor. The barrister was unable to represent Mr McKenzie as he did not have the required rights of audience to speak in a UK court so the judge made the friend leave and Mr McKenzie appealed this decision. It is up to court giving permission to a person who is representing themselves in court to have the right to have a friend present in court beside him/her to assist by prompting, taking notes and quietly giving advice
Who can be a McKenzie Friend?
You can ask anyone not directly related to your case to act as your McKenzie Friend. It is entirely normal to ask your best friend or a family member to come with you to court and that person can perform a number of basic tasks such as provide moral support, help you with your paperwork, take notes for you and give quiet advice. So long as they are not linked to the case you are allowed to bring them with you, so you may not be able to bring your brother if he was a witness to an event that will be raised or your new partner if the issue is whether your child is safe in their care. There are many people who will help you in court for various reasons, for example, both Women's Aid and the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) may provide a volunteer to go with you to court or you may use a volunteer from the likes of Families Need Fathers. There are also those who charge for their services.
Are McKenzie Friends Legally Qualified?
A McKenzie Friend is often a cost-effective way to get some help in your court case and there are several different types. Most are not usually legally qualified so will not be able to give you advice but also won't charge you for their time. Some McKenzie Friends are people who have been through the family courts themselves and offer their knowledge of their own case to you for a fee whilst others might be qualified lawyers who provide a service to help people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford access to legal expertise. It can be very useful if you have someone who is legally qualified with you because the 'quiet advice' they can give will include points of law or procedure, issues you may wish to raise and suggest questions you may wish to ask witnesses.
What can and can't a McKenzie Friend do?
The role of the McKenzie Friend is to:
Provide moral support
Take notes in court
Help with case papers
Give quiet advice during your court case
Make comments on a point of law
Suggest questions you may wish to ask witnesses.
Conduct litigation (with the express prior permission of the court in the most exceptional circumstances)
Speak for you (with the express prior permission of the court in the most exceptional circumstances)
A McKenzie Friend can not:
Act as your agent in proceedings
Manage your case for you outside of court (sign papers for you, make applications in your name etc)
Address the court for you, question witnesses or make oral submissions on your behalf)
Can a McKenzie Friend speak for me in court?
A McKenzie Friend cannot speak for you in court except under the most rare and exceptional circumstances such as you have a disability or crippling anxiety that makes it impossible for you to speak. You can ask the court to grant your McKenzie Friend a right of audience (permission to speak) and give your reasons why that should be allowed but its a discretion of the court, not a right and will only be granted if doing so would be necessary. It should be a red flag to you if you have someone who is pushing you or seems to be very keen to obtain rights of audience so they may speak for you in court.
Do I need permission to have a McKenzie Friend with me in court?
If you want to have a McKenzie Friend you normally have to fill out a McKenzie Friend form in advance to let the court know you wish to make an application for permission. Your child's other parent can oppose your application but there is a very strong presumption in favour of allowing you to have someone with you and they will need to provide a very good reason against permission being granted (such as the person is directly related to your case). Your McKenzie Friend can be in court to help you with the decision about whether you should be allowed someone with you and must only leave if your application fails.