The Legal Services Consumer Panel has started an investigation into fee-charging McKenzie Friends. It is inviting solicitors to send examples of cases where clients have experienced detriment as a result of using these services.
The courts have long recognised the right of litigants in person to help in the form of a McKenzie Friend or lay assistant. A McKenzie Friend is a person who attends court as a friend of a litigant in person to take notes, quietly to make suggestions and to give advice. A McKenzie Friend does not have the right to conduct litigation or act as an advocate, which are reserved activities under the Legal Services Act. However, the courts may grant rights of audience to a McKenzie Friend in the interests of justice on a case-by-case basis.
McKenzie Friends have traditionally operated as volunteers but the panel has identified an emerging market of individuals and microenterprises which charge for these services. Numbers of fee-charging McKenzie Friends are likely to grow further following the changes to legal aid. They appear to be most prevalent in family law, but also accept cases in social welfare and other areas of law.
Some McKenzie Friends are knowledgeable and experienced and are often seen as a benefit to their clients and the court. However, there are also risks for clients many of whom are in a vulnerable position, for example poor quality advice and escalating fees.
The panel is keen to obtain case studies which highlight the sorts of problems that can occur. These will help the panel to reach a view on what action, if any, is needed to address this issue. The panel plans to publish a report of its findings in the spring and work with the Law Society and others to take forward its conclusions.
Please send case studies to email@example.com by the end of 14 February.