One of the reasons I chose not to include the words McKenzie Friend in the name of this website is because my pre-launch research indicated that the name is not well known.
Most people I have spoken to about this work have no idea what a McKenzie Friend is, and I have even come across solicitors who have been equally in the dark.
But my research was not exhaustive, and the fact that you are reading this means that you are either curious, or you know more about this area than those I spoke to.
It is time to unveil the McKenzie Friend and understand how this role came into existence.
A McKenzie Friend is someone who assists a litigant in person (someone who is going to court without legal representation) by offering support in readiness for and during a hearing.
Who is McKenzie?
The name McKenzie comes from a 1970 divorce case (McKenzie v McKenzie*). The husband, Mr McKenzie, who was representing himself, wanted someone to sit beside him and assist him in the courtroom, but his request was refused.
Mr McKenzie took his case to the Court of Appeal and it was ruled that the judge in the lower court should not have refused his request.
But the right to assistance while in court pre-dates the McKenzie case. This right was established in 1831 (in the case of Collier v Hicks**). The judge in this case, Lord Tenterden CJ, stated that any person, whether a professional or not, could attend court as a friend of either party and take notes, quietly make suggestions and give advice.
What is a McKenzie Friend allowed to do?
McKenzie Friends must abide by the Civil and Family Courts Practice Guidance. The Guidance sets out that litigants in person can have reasonable assistance from a McKenzie Friend.
Here are the main provisions of the guidance.
McKenzie Friends can:
- Provide reasonable assistance
- Provide moral support
- Take notes in court
- Help with case papers
- Quietly give advice in court on any aspect of the case
McKenzie Friends cannot:
- Carry out litigation
- Sign litigants’ documents
- Address the court
- Examine witnesses
Why are McKenzie Friends needed?
The simple answer is cost.
Legal advice can be costly and Legal Aid for family cases has been severely restricted in recent years. As a result, access to legal advice provided by law firms is no longer an option for those who cannot afford to pay for them.
For many people, this means working on their own cases and attending court on their own.
Having a McKenzie Friend by your side means there is someone in your corner who can guide you through the legal process at a time when emotions are high, taking the worry of legal jargon and legal processes away from you.
Most McKenzie Friends charge a fraction of the fees charged by law firms, with a limited number offering their services for free. Using the services of a McKenzie Friend means that you can still get access to justice, even if you do not have a lawyer; and it means you can do so while keeping a rein on your legal costs.
Are McKenzie Friends legally qualified?
Some are, but not all.
McKenzie Friends have a wide variety of backgrounds, some have been litigants in person themselves, or have used the services of a McKenzie Friend during their own divorce or family proceedings. Some are supporters of one or more causes, while others are solicitors who have left private practice.
You may also find a McKenzie Friend whose background covers more than one of these areas, for example, he or she may have a legal qualification plus experience as a litigant in person in their own case.
How to find a McKenzie Friend
There is two organisations that hold an online database of McKenzie Friends by geographical area, making it easier for you to find a McKenzie Friend near you:
This is a self-regulating professional body that provides a list of professional McKenzie Friends who have had to fulfill certain criteria before being accepted, including being registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and being insured.
Experienced McKenzie Friends can apply to join this organisation. Once accepted, their profiles are included by region on a map of the UK.
Both organisations provide further information about how to choose and work with a McKenzie Friend – and most McKenzie Friends have websites providing further details about their services, fees and specialist areas.
Copyright © Going to Court Alone
Case citations – for cases mentioned:
*McKenzie v McKenzie  3 WLR 472
**Collier v Hicks  2 B & Ad 663