A consumer legal organisation has called for greater recognition of the role played by McKenzie friends.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) said McKenzie friends provided “valuable support that improves access to justice in the large majority of cases”.
The organisation called for a “culture shift which recognises fee-charging McKenzie friends as a legitimate feature of the modern legal services market”.
McKenzie friends provide informal courtroom advice to unrepresented litigants in person. They do not need to be legally qualified. The term originates from a 1970 divorce case, McKenzie v McKenzie, during which Leveine McKenzie was initially told he could not be assisted in the courtroom by an Australian barrister not qualified to practice in the UK. He appealed and the case went to a retrial.
According to the LSCP, an increasing number of McKenzie friends have begun to charge for their services despite their lack of legal qualifications. They declare:
“There are reports of a rise in fee-charging McKenzie friends aiming to meet the needs of litigants who are no longer eligible for legal aid funding but cannot afford legal representation.”
Typical fees range from £35-60 per hour and £150-200 per day. Some earn as much as £100,000 per year.
The majority of McKenzie friends specialise in family law.
The LSCP said:
“Litigation through the courts on a family matter can be expensive and beyond the means of a great many individuals. Added to this is the withdrawal of legal aid funding, while ‘matrimonial disputes’ tend to be excluded from most legal expenses insurance policies. Therefore, for those who cannot afford legal representation, the real choice is between using a McKenzie friend or being entirely unsupported during proceedings.”
The Legal Services Consumer Panel provides “high quality, evidenced-based advice to the Legal Services Board” and represents “the interests of the many different consumers”.