Home > Legal > Using a McKenzie Friend in Court

Using a McKenzie Friend in Court

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 6 Oct 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Mckenzie Friend Court Hearing Judge

A McKenzie Friend is someone who accompanies a litigant in Court to provide moral support. They may also take notes, help the litigant find the correct papers and give advice on questions to ask witnesses etc. They cannot however speak for the litigant, or run the case for them.

McKenzie Friends arose from the 1970 divorce case of McKenzie v McKenzie. In that case, the husband was representing himself and wanted the help of someone who was not legally qualified in the English Courts. His request was refused. However on appeal, it was determined that having moral support in Court was part of being entitled to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights. Any such assistants/supporters are therefore now referred to as 'McKenzie Friends'.

A McKenzie Friend Can:

  • Give quiet advice on points of law to the litigant
  • Advise the litigant on issues that they might want to raise in Court
  • Suggest to the litigant questions that they might want to ask the other party or witnesses
  • Help organise documents
  • Take notes

A McKenzie Friend Cannot:

  • Speak for the litigant
  • Examine witnesses
  • Address the Court (though the Judge may be prepared to hear from them if this would clarify an issue and assist in the swift administration of justice.)
  • Attend a closed court unless they have prior permission from the Court.
  • Sign Court documents on the litigant's behalf.

Will permission for a McKenzie Friend always be granted?

A judge will not usually refuse permission unless it's believed that allowing the McKenzie Friend would interfere with the administration of justice (such as if the McKenzie Friend constantly interrupts proceedings). However often the court will issue a warning to the litigant and McKenzie Friend first, before an outright refusal is made.

If the judge decides refuse permission for a McKenzie Friend, they must give reasons for doing so. Usually any refusal will be for a particular person to act as a McKenzie Friend rather than generally for the litigant to have any McKenzie Friend.

Why has there been a recent increased demand for McKenzie Friends?

Traditionally, McKenzie Friends were family members or friends, there to provide moral support free of charge to the litigant. However there are some professional McKenzie Friends who charge for their assistance (but are still far cheaper than solicitors).

In April 2013, the government changed the rules in relation to legal aid. This meant that litigants no longer receive free legal assistance in most family law cases, including those relating to divorce, child contact and residence, and civil cases relating to debt, housing, immigration, welfare and employment.

The change in legal aid rules left many litigants who couldn't afford a lawyer with a simple choice; go to court on your own or hire a (far cheaper) McKenzie friend. The demand for professional McKenzie Friends has therefore increased.

How much do McKenzie Friends charge?

Typically, professional McKenzie Friends charge between £16 and £90 per hour, depending upon experience and qualifications.

Although their role is supposed to be limited, they are increasingly mirroring the service provided by qualified lawyers. For example, they are not allowed to conduct litigation, but there is really nothing to stop them advising a litigant (word by word) what to write in a document, in such a way that there is really no difference.

Who are professional McKenzie Friends?

There seem to be two "branches" of McKenzie Friends:

  • Professionals with experience of the legal system, such as former social workers, and police officers.
  • Those with personal experience of the legal system having dealt with similar cases of their own.

Help or hindrance?

Help
McKenzie Friends can improve access to justice by providing valuable support for litigants in person. Attending Court can be a daunting experience, particularly for those who have not been before, and so many litigants feel encouraged to have someone who has been in the situation before sit with them and reassure them.

Many judges have also commented that in the high-pressure environment of the courtroom, McKenzie Friends can actually help litigants to separate emotion from fact. By encouraging the litigant to focus on factual issues, they help litigants to better present their case and assist the Court to more swiftly deal with matters.

Hindrance
There is however a real worry that the provision of services as a McKenzie Friend is completely unregulated. Some (perhaps well-meaning McKenzie Friends) can provide poor advice to their client that actually harms their client's case. Poor legal advice can lead to a litigant losing a perfectly good case, which does not serve to assist the litigant's cause, or the administration of justice for any of the parties involved.

There are also concerns that McKenzie Friends often take advantage of vulnerable litigants (those without the funds to afford a lawyer, and often those with lower academic abilities who do not feel as comfortable setting out their own arguments). Unfortunately due to the nature of the role and the lack of regulation of the field, it is the more vulnerable or desperate litigant that will often be left with the cheapest and least effective advice.

Conclusion

McKenzie Friends can be a helpful moral support to litigants. However there are better and worse McKenzie Friends, and you often get what you pay for. Having a poor McKenzie Friend (as with a poor lawyer) is not a reason for a re-trial of an issue. However unlike with lawyers, McKenzie Friends are unregulated and usually not insured, meaning that you have no recourse if their advice is incorrect.

Therefore whilst your McKenzie Friend may offer you guidance, it is important to remember that it is your case and your opportunity to present your side of the dispute.

Check out the Separated Dads Forum... It's a great resource where you can ask for advice on topics including Child Access, Maintenance, CAFCASS, Fathers Rights, Court, Behaviour or simply to have a chat with other dads.

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[Add a Comment]
Rob - Your Question:
Hi I wrote asking for some help and advice is there anyone able to help me please thank you Rob

Our Response:
Apologies for the delay, while we try to get to all questions we have so many across our sites, we can't answer them all. However, in your case, if the mediation form states the contact has broken down then as it says court is your next option. Please see link: here which lays out the process you can take. Due to the withdrawal of Legal Aid and because many non-resident parents can't afford the hefty solicitor's fees, you can self-litigate, please see both links here and here. Many NRPs are taking this route with good results, as long as you prepare your case well and despite what you may think, the court does want non-resident parents to have contact and access with their children. Our forum may help you if you need advice as many fathers have been through these issues before. It's time to get moving and fight for your access, we wish you the best of luck.
SeparatedDads - 7-Oct-16 @ 12:59 PM
Hi I wrote asking for some help and advice is there anyone able to help me please thank you Rob
Rob - 6-Oct-16 @ 8:45 PM
Ann85 - Your Question:
Can someone help, my bro has had his son for 2 years due to his exs drinking, suicide & mental health problems she is a pathalogical liar & could honestly reel anyone is, since being him my brother hes settled in school never missed a day & living in a stable family unit, there is a case coming up for the mother to get him back full time as shes "cleaned up her act" she in unemployed & has received legal aid for 6+ years & bled him dry hes representing himself now. Any advice for him & us as witnesses its taking its toll on everyone now her latest statement was 'get your wallet out il have all my csa back soon& laughed' its hearbreaking all round we just want whats best for his child.

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this. It is rare the court will take the child from a stable background and hand the child back to the non-resident parent, as the court will always decide what it thinks is in the child's best interests and stability and consistency are of the upmost importance.. Any threats like this; if via text or email should be kept as evidence. Your brother may wish to enquire about applying at the same time for a residence order so he can give his son the stability he needs, please see link here. If your brother has given his son a solid upbringing, then he has a better chance of being awarded the residence order than his ex has of getting the child returned to her.
SeparatedDads - 5-Oct-16 @ 2:59 PM
Can someone help, my bro has had his son for 2 years due to his exs drinking, suicide & mental health problems she is a pathalogical liar & could honestly reel anyone is, since being him my brother hes settled in school never missed a day & living in a stable family unit, there is a case coming up for the mother to get him back full time as shes "cleaned up her act" she in unemployed & has received legal aid for 6+ years & bled him dry hes representing himself now.. Any advice for him & us as witnesses its taking its toll on everyone now her latest statement was 'get your wallet out il have all my csa back soon& laughed' its hearbreaking all round we just want whats best for his child.
Ann85 - 5-Oct-16 @ 12:03 PM
Hi I'm seeking some advice on where to go next with legal help or advice on seeing my son, it's been just over 7mnths since I've had any form of contact with him, my ex agreed to contact etc via mediation but then it all changed, I've a form from mediation to say it can go straight to court but with paying over £200 a hour session for solisitors how can I make it so less costly but effective it's getting to me now that I have in my exs eyes no rights when I actually do. My son was born 08 and I'm on birth certificate please help me I'm at breaking point thank you Rob
Rob - 3-Oct-16 @ 7:46 PM
I have family court its a dispute resolution hearing and I would like a friend to attend for moral support as it it going to be the last hearing (unfortunately I have not made the court aware and its Friday now with the hearing Monday morning) can I not have moral support now
FG4C - 19-Aug-16 @ 6:26 PM
Helen - Your Question:
Hi. Just wanted to add a comment to clarify a point for some of you.I attended a court hearing today as a McKenzie Friend to an elderly vulnerable couple who are neighbours of mine. A Mckensie Friend is not allowed to stand as a witness in a case. If the witness statement is valuable evidence then I would look at others that could stand as a Mckensie Friend. Neither is a Mckensie Friend allowed to address the court or ask questions, so for anyone thinking of being a Mckensie Friend for someone it is very important to go through the strategy to be used in court beforehand. Make clear notes in bullet points that can be easily followed, and take a notepad as a Mckensie Friend is allowed to give advice in this respect and can be very useful if the person you are supporting forgets a point or is asked an unexpected question. I hope this helps.Helen x

Our Response:
Many thanks for your comments, I'm sure they will be helpful to our readers.
SeparatedDads - 15-Jun-16 @ 1:41 PM
Hi. Just wanted to add a comment to clarify a point for some of you. I attended a court hearing today as a McKenzie Friend to an elderly vulnerable couple who are neighbours of mine. A Mckensie Friend is not allowed to stand as a witness in a case. If the witness statement is valuable evidence then I would look at others that could stand as a Mckensie Friend. Neither is a Mckensie Friend allowed to address the court or ask questions, so for anyone thinking of being a Mckensie Friend for someone it is very important to go through the strategy to be used in court beforehand. Make clear notes in bullet points that can be easily followed, and take a notepad as a Mckensie Friend is allowed to give advice in this respect and can be very useful if the person you are supporting forgets a point or is asked an unexpected question. I hope this helps. Helen x
Helen - 14-Jun-16 @ 8:16 PM
Hi my partner has court coming up to have contact with his little boy as the mother is just refusing. He wishes for me to become his mckenzie friend which I'm happy to do as he struggles with the necessary paperwork reading,writing, understanding some information we phoned up the courts to apply for this they said we need to write to them to apply as they don't do the applications anymore. Any advice on what needs to be in the letter?
Beckii - 23-Dec-15 @ 4:14 PM
J - Your Question:
How do my dad and partner become McKenzie friends?

Our Response:
They can either volunteer and train through the NCDV first, see link here . They can also conduct an online search as there are various training courses on offer. No previous knowledge or experience is required to train as the profession is unregulated. However, this is currently causing concerns across the legal industry.
SeparatedDads - 23-Oct-15 @ 10:23 AM
How do my dad and partner become McKenzie friends?
J - 22-Oct-15 @ 12:06 AM
I am in Independent Social Worker with over 24 years experience and am regularly asked to act as a McKenzie friend in cases where I am already undertaking a review of the Local Authorities' "behaviour", by litigants in person. My reading of the rules is that in these cases I am not able to act as a Mc Kenzie friend as it is a confusion of the role, and could be suggested it compromises my independent position. I do however, see a real role for my experience to be used to proper effect,in matters where as a social worker ,I would be able to advise where the issues lie in the LA's case. I would appreciate some guidance though. I'm very clear on the conflict of interest rules, but feel this may provide more fairness when parents are up against local authorities. Any advice would be helpful
Robbie 999 - 3-Sep-15 @ 8:11 PM
hi. My fiancé has his first court hearing for contact with his daughter in the next few weeks. Can I be his Mckenzie friend? I know I can only take notes and give advice etc, he will do better with my support than a strangers. How do I go about telling the court I'll be his Mckenzie friend too? thanks :)
KC - 12-Aug-15 @ 7:33 AM
My daughter is a litegant in person and has just emailed a request to have her stepdad with her as a McKenzie friend . Her ex had a solicitor. Does he have to be notified of her request?
Susiq - 29-Jul-15 @ 10:19 AM
Hi, my fiance has his first dispute hearing on Monday and I wanted to know if I can be his Mckenzie friend as I am better at taking in information and making notes and understanding proceedings. We haven't asked the courts yet, but I read online a Mckenzie friend can be brought on the day as long as they are introduced to and approved by the courts prior to the start of the hearing. Thank you :)
Freya - 30-May-15 @ 3:51 PM
@John - I am sorry to hear that this has seemingly over-stepped the mark. As specified in the article; while the McKenzie Friend cannot address the court, occasionally if a party is assisted by a McKenzie Friend who has particular knowledge about the case or some aspect of it, the judge might decide that justice can more expediently be carried out by speaking directly to the McKenzie Friend. Therefore a McKenzie Friend can give quiet advice on points of law, advise on issues you might want to raise in the court, or suggest questions to ask the other party or witnesses. It also states that in the relative informality of a some court hearings, the judge may be prepared to hear from them if they can provide information that is relevant to the case. Have you thought of using a McKenzie friend yourself? There are some qualified solicitors who can act as advisors and they do this voluntarily or via donation, perhaps you should seek one out yourself as being a self-litigant can be a bit of a minefield and it seems like you may need some extra help. You also may find our Separated Dads Facebook page useful as there are a lot of dads going through the same or similar issues that can help give support and advice. I hope this helps.
SeparatedDads - 26-Mar-15 @ 10:35 AM
I am litigant in person who has made an application for a Care Arrangements Order to see my 2 year old son. The final hearing is in May 2015. The matter commenced in the Family Proceedings Court and has been elevated to the County Court before a High Court Judge! The Respondent mother is represented by a Solicitor. However, at the 2nd directions appointment, the Respondent decided to save legal fees and brought along a close friend who acted as a McKenzie Friend. The McKenzie Friend was not a 'trained' McKenzie Friend! At the directions hearing I was represented by Counsel. In pre-court negotiations with the Respondent in the presence the McKenzie Friend and the CAFCASS Officer, Counsel asked the McKenzie Friend if she would be giving evidence at the final hearing. The McKenzie Friend stated she would NOT be giving evidence at any subsequent or final hearing. Again in open court, before the court clerk, my counsel reitereated the concerns she had about the McKenzie Friend vis-a-vis the possibility of her giving evidence in any subsequent hearing. Counsel requested the court clerk to note that the McKenzie should only be allowed to be party to the proceedings and remain in the court room on the presumption that she would not give evidence at any subsequent hearing. On this basis the McKenzie Friend was allowed to remain in the Court room by the clerk. As it transpires that the McKenzie Friend has now made two witness statements and intends to give evidence at the final hearing. My question is very simple. CAN A McKENZIE FRIEND BE ALLOWED TO ACT AS A WITNESS AND GIVE EVIDENCE IN THE SAME HEARING, ESPECIALLY BEARING IN MIND THAT SHE WAS INFORMED IN PRE-COURT NEGOTIATIONS & OPEN COURT, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE COURT CLERK, THAT SHE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO ACT AS A WITNESS? Is it not fundamentally unfair to the applicant's case that a potential witness is aware of the confidential facts of the case? I also feel there is a conflict of interests here. Are there any other reasons I can put forward to prevent the McKenzie Friend's evidence from being included in the trial bundle? I have a directions appointment on 2 April 2015 to put my case forward to exclude the written and oral evidence of the McKenzie Friend. I have researched high and low to see if there is any precedent to rule on this matter and have come across none. There is no guidance from the courts regarding this issue either. Your help would be most appreciated. Yours faithfully
John - 23-Mar-15 @ 11:10 AM
Thanks for replying this is what I was hoping but I recieved an email from my solicitor today saying he is applying for his girlfriend to talk for him and to do this has to apply for her to be his mckenzie friend and she would have no objection to him doing this! So im just confussed. Thanks
Gemma Elkington - 17-Sep-14 @ 4:54 PM
@Gemma, they still won't allow it if he says he has confidence and anxiety issues, he has taken it this far so he can't be that anxious. Also the judge will have heard all the excuses before and won't be taken in by it, especially by allowing a new girlfriend to get involved.
Jim - 17-Sep-14 @ 11:54 AM
Thank you this is what I thought but apperntly he is pushing for his girlfriend to basically act Nd talk for him as he has confidence issues! And anxiety..?? It just doesn't seem right if this is allowed.thanks.
Gemma Elkington - 17-Sep-14 @ 11:43 AM
@Gemma, When you get to court the judge will ask you if you have any objections to your ex bringing a McKenzie friend in with them. At this point you can object stating you don't want them in the room. The judge will then tell your ex that he isn't allowed to bring anyone in. Remember though McKenzie friends aren't allowed to say anything and can only take notes.
Jim - 17-Sep-14 @ 10:27 AM
My ex is saying his girlfriend is going to be acting as his mk friend? Is this really allowed as I feel she is to involved. thanks.
Gemma Elkington - 17-Sep-14 @ 7:57 AM
Great informative website. I have just started offering McKenzie friend services in the Essex area. I am a retired family solicitor who knows how emotive family proceedings are and how imbalanced they are as some get legal aid and some ( mostly men) do not. I believe in equal access to the justice system for both parents.
suekessler - 10-Sep-14 @ 2:36 PM
What a fantastic website. Thank you so much. I have sent off for 5 wrist bands and car stickers to spread the word. The information is brilliant. So easy to read and navigate. Lovely not to feel so alone. There are other Dads out there dealing with similar if not worse. We continue together..... Stay strong. Mark
Buzza - 26-Aug-14 @ 8:22 PM
I have applied to the court to be my sons mckenzie friend and wrote to the judge asking permission also the mother of the child involved in the contact case and she has objected, will the judge refuse me because she has objected? the case has been ongoing for five years,
Benjy - 26-Jun-14 @ 4:02 PM
My ex mother in law was a mcenzie friend to my ex in the family court, at the last hearing she was voicing her opinions and the judge told her to be quiet as she had overstated the Mark. Im back for the next contact hearing in four weeks, how do i object to her acting as a mcenzie mcenzie friend this time and get her stopped from coming into court.
ken - 4-Jan-14 @ 1:49 AM
If you are bringing a McKenzie Friend with you to family court, it may be a spouse, friend, other relation, (providing they have not previously been disruptive) as this type of support comes under the heading of 'moral' support. So, object very firmly if the other side or the judge attempts to remove them. ?Refer to the Presidents 2010 Guidance, which is very clear on the type of support which is permitted. Litigants in person often forget that IT IS THEIR RIGHT to have this type of support. Moral suport can come from very many sources! So, stand up firmly for yourself in court and speak up for your rights adamently.
Aunty Nicky - 24-Jan-12 @ 5:30 PM
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