The office of the Lord Chief Justice has launched a consultation into the role of McKenzie Friends in the courtroom.
Named after a precedent-setting divorce case in 1970, McKenzie Friends provide advice and support to litigants in person (LIPs), people who take part in a court case without a lawyer. Most are not legally qualified and some charge for their services.
In 2010, official guidance setting out ways in which the courts should interact with McKenzie Friends was published by the second and fourth most senior judges in the country, the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Family Division. This summarised relevant case law. But in the subsequent six years there has been “a significant increase in the number of both LIPs and McKenzie Friends”, in the words of the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary.
Consequently, a working group to explore the issues raised was set up by the country’s most senior judge, the Lord Chief Justice, along with the Judicial Executive Board. The latter is a committee consisting of the most senior members of the judiciary.
Following investigation, the Working Group reached a number of conclusions regarding possible legal reform and replacement of the practice guidance. These have now been set out in a consultation document. Proposals include:
*Replacement of the term McKenzie Friend, which the Group believes is poorly defined and can lead to confusion amongst LIPs.
*Replacement of the current practice guidance with new formal court rules (‘rules of court’), along with a “plain language” guide to the law for LIPs and McKenzie Friends themselves. The latter would introduce a “greater degree of clarity” to the situation.
The deadline for submissions from interested parties is 19 May.
The consultation document is entitled Reforming the Courts’ approach to McKenzie Friends. It can be read here.