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1 reason to share information before your hearing

The date of your court hearing is fast approaching and you have been working hard to prepare everything you need.

You stumble upon some information that will help your case, but it is far too good to share with anyone.  So you keep it to yourself.  You plan to take it with you to court and reveal it for the first time during the hearing.

There is one good reason why you should not do this.

The reason is: disclosure.

You may have heard on the news, earlier this year (2018) about a number of criminal cases that were affected by disclosure issues.  Due to a lack of disclosure, some of these criminal cases collapsed – and could not be taken any further through the courts.

Disclosure is just as important in family cases or other civil matters.

What is disclosure?

Disclosure means releasing information (about someone or about something) that you are going to use in your case when you go to court.

Disclosure involves telling the other side that the information exists and sharing that information with them so that they can read or inspect that information.

In other words, before going to court, if you have anything that you want to show to the judge or ask the judge to read or consider in relation to your case on the day, you must first share that same information with the other side (the applicant or the respondent).

Disclosure rules mean that if you go to your hearing with information for the judge that you have not shared with the other side, the judge will not consider the information and you will not be able to use it at that hearing.

Information you must disclose

Depending on your case, the information to disclose or share could be:

  • Medical reports from a doctor
  • Letters or emails
  • Contracts
  • CCTV footage or audio recordings
  • Bank statements
  • Pictures
  • Text messages
  • Social media messages

Why is disclosure important?

Disclosure is important because there must be transparency in legal proceedings.  Hearings must be fair – and there should be no surprises.

Fair hearings can only happen if all parties (you as well as the other side) understand and have been given the opportunity to see or inspect any information that is going to be used as part of the case.

What happens if you do not disclose information?

It may be tempting to try to gain some tactical advantage through non-disclosure.  There a few reasons why it could backfire if you do this.

If you do not share or disclose information before your hearing, you may not get the outcome you had hoped for, especially if you were relying on that information to help your case.

If the undisclosed information is crucial to the proceedings, the hearing may have to be adjourned (delayed) – and a new hearing held at a later date.  This is because the other side will need time to inspect the information and, where necessary, prepare a response to it.

If your hearing has to be adjourned your case will be delayed and there may be additional court hearing fees to pay.  There will also be the knock-on effect of the delay on other hearings you may have, for example if the original hearing was one of a series of hearings in the same case.

Copyright © Going to Court Alone

Find out more about disclosure – go to:

Civil Procedure Rules – Part 31 Disclosure and Inspection of Documents

5 good reasons to use a McKenzie Friend

A few years ago when I was a litigant in person, I had never heard of a McKenzie Friend.  But times have (fortunately) moved on, and litigants in person who cannot pay for a lawyer no longer need to tread the legal path alone.

While McKenzie Friends are not practising lawyers, there are many benefits to using one when you are preparing your legal case.

In this round-up article, I home in on five reasons why having a McKenzie Friend by your side can benefit you.

1) Empathy

Many McKenzie Friends (myself included), have been where you are now.  We were once litigants in person and we understand how difficult it can be to navigate the sea of legal jargon and processes.

McKenzie Friends understand what it means to lay out your life before a court and experience the emotion of re-living certain experiences – and the feeling that life (or some parts of it) are hanging in the balance.

Because of our insights, we bring empathy and understanding to the work we do and how we do it.  We understand this is not just ‘a job’.  It is about life and it matters.

2)  Focus

Because McKenzie Friends tend to operate as a one (wo)man band, we have fewer clients at any given time.

This means we can focus on you and your case more closely, giving you a one-to-one service in the truest sense of the word.  It also means that you do not have to wade through a corporate structure to reach us.

When you phone, we answer.  When you leave a message, it comes to us direct and we respond.  And your case is never shifted along to someone else, unless you move it away yourself.

3) Affordable

While the premise of the McKenzie Friend is free (and it is still possible to find some McKenzie Friends offering free help), the majority of McKenzies charge for their services, and may offer a free, initial consultation.

McKenzie Friend fees are a fraction of what law firms charge.  And because a McKenzie Friend tends to work outside of a corporate structure, the overheads are low.  We do not have (expensive) offices to run or staff to pay – so the cost to you is lower.

4) Clear fees

Visit the website of most McKenzie Friends and you will find that our fees are clearly displayed. Fees may be listed as an hourly rate or may be at a fixed rate for a particular service.

Our transparent pricing means that you know exactly how much it will cost from the start.  This makes it easier for you to budget and control how much you are spending, while getting the help you need.

5) Adaptable

Being a small operation (of one) means McKenzie Friends can quickly adapt to change.  We make fast, ongoing improvements to our services and are ready to continue to make changes if something does not work or is no longer relevant.

The legal landscape is changing and McKenzie Friends are responding to these changes by offering services that really do make a difference to you as a litigant-in-person.

As a professional McKenzie Friend I use regular feedback to improve my services, and I always try to go that extra mile.

So there you have it.  Five good reasons to seek out and work with a McKenzie Friend.  Do it now…

Copyright © Going to Court Alone

What is a McKenzie Friend?

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:

The Society of Professional McKenzie Friends

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.

Family Law Assistance

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 [1970] 3 WLR 472

**Collier v Hicks [1831] 2 B & Ad 663