A McKenzie friend is someone who assists a litigant in person (LiP) in court in family law cases. They do not need any legal qualifications, but often have a legal background.
McKenzie friends provide assistance to any litigant in the family courts, including helping to prepare the case beforehand and sitting alongside the litigant in court.
They provide moral support, help with case papers and give advice on issues like which questions the litigant want to ask witnesses and the issues the litigant should raise in court.
McKenzie friends are often relatives of the LiP, a family friend, a law student working pro bono or a representative working for a family law charity.
The origin of the phrase comes from the 1970 divorce case McKenzie v McKenzie.
Levine McKenzie had his legal aid withdrawn and requested the assistance of Australian barrister Ian Hanger. Hanger did not have the legal qualifications to represent McKenzie in the Court of England and Wales, but had the sound legal knowledge to sit in support of McKenzie and help him with prompts, take notes and give advice.
Hangar did not take an active role in the case, and sat in the public gallery of the court. Hangar only appeared in his limited role for one day of the trail.
After the case went against Levine McKenzie, he won his appeal based on the fact that McKenzie had been denied representation, apart from the limited role of Hangar.
From then on, unqualified representatives with a similar role to Hangar in the McKenzie case were allowed in family courts,
What Are McKenzie Friends Not Allowed to Do?
McKenzie Friends are not allowed to do anything on behalf of the LiP, such as signing court documents, addressing the court, or examining witnesses. In very rare cases, a judge can grant a McKenzie Friend the ‘rights of audience’, which does allow the McKenzie Friend to address the court.
Future of McKenzie Friends
McKenzie Friends who charge fees for their services have become more popular over the past few decades, and are currently under review by the judiciary executive board, following Scotland’s example.
Both the Legal Services Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority have opposed the idea of a ban on McKenzie Friends.