In the UK in 1970 a husband who could not afford legal representation in his divorce proceedings used an Australian barrister, who was not qualified to appear in an English court, to help him. The judge barred the Australian from sitting next to McKenzie at the hearing. McKenzie appealed this decision on the ground he had been unfairly denied help. The Court of Appeal agreed, and according to an article last week in the UK Guardian newspaper, “broke lawyers’ monopoly on providing legal representation”.
There is a healthy industry of lay legal advisers in the UK today. They are called “McKenzie Friends”.
Although anyone can call themselves a McKenzie Friend in the UK, there is today a self regulated body – Society of Professional McKenzie Friends Ltd.
They offer services to people representing themselves in court, at much lower cost than a solicitor or barrister.
According to the Society’s website McKenzie Friends help personal litigants by: providing moral support; taking notes; and helping with case papers. They also “quietly”give advice on points of law or procedure, issues that the litigant may wish to raise in court and questions the litigant may wish to ask witnesses.
Members of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends Ltd are insured. They have law or relevant qualifications equivalent to A Level (Grade 12), or they have worked 20+ hours a week as a McKenzie Friend for 3 or more years. The Society offers an investigation and complaints procedure.
According to Barrie Hanson, Canadian courts have been asked to allow non-lawyer agents to appear for parties, but the exercise of this discretion, in jurisdictions where it exists, will been exercised rarely and with caution.
The use of McKenzie Friends in the UK has become so widespread, according the Guardian article, “… the judiciary is considering imposing regulations that will ban them from being paid in England and Wales”. A judicial consultation ‘Reforming the Courts’ approach to McKenzie Friends’ is now underway.