Last Updated on 4.1.19 by Kerry Lees-Russell
Philip Kedge, a former police officer has stated that family law ‘does not need lawyers’. His soon to launch Blue Light McKenzie Friends website will link up around 100 former police officers acting as McKenzies with members of the public.
‘We want to remove the acrimony and promote the message of choice,’ Kedge told the Law Society Gazette. ‘We are clear that you don’t need lawyers in a family court,’ he added. ’It’s about getting a fair outcome. The legal system in family law is no more than human disagreement – there are no legal questions. My aim is to empower people across the UK to self-litigate with the message that apart from a few exceptions, i.e legal aid, it is an irrebuttable truth that family law doesn’t need lawyers,’ Kedge submitted.
A McKenzie Friend is someone you can have with you in court to take notes, offer advice and prompt responses to answers. They can not necessarily address the Court directly. A McKenzie Friend does not have a right to conduct litigation or exercise a right of audience. The court may grant those rights in individual cases but this is very much at the discretion of the Judge and in fact should only be granted where there is good reason to do so and where there are exceptional circumstances. A McKenzie Friend cannot manage your case outside of the court arena either e.g. they cannot sign legal documents on your behalf.
For Kerry Lees-Russell, a Qualified Solicitor specialising in Family Law for over a decade, she is concerned on note from the website that states the following:
‘a McKenzie Friend can support you through a system based on practical and straight forward procedures and to help you build a case that reduces conflict and focuses on the defined determining factors and principles that are based on common sense checklists rather than complex legal precedents’
“For every £10,000 you would pay a lawyer, we aim to charge £1,000.”
Firstly from the outset, a qualified Family Law Solicitor will have a sufficient level experience, training and legal knowledge in order to advise potential litigants as to whether a particular legal route would be in their interests before the commencement of court proceedings. Kerry routinely carries out a costs-versus-benefit assessment for clients when giving them their options pre-litigation and there have been many times when she has sat down with clients to warn them that the costs of a particular route may outweigh the benefits. This involves an ability to apply the particular facts and issues at dispute within the legal framework whilst, knowing, understanding and following the strict procedural rules in place and having regard to case law relevant to a particular family. Kerry fails to see how someone without the necessary legal qualifications and experience and could possibly carry out such a crucial assessment.
‘Of course I understand the value of having moral support’ states Kerry ‘but if you are employing the services of a McKenzie Friend to essentially sit next to you and take notes whilst you are addressing the court yourself, I question whether or not this is a cost effective solution for the litigant in person.’
‘Family Law is not simply about a family disagreements or what is shown on Judge Rinder or Judge Judy and it is inaccurate in my opinion to say that the Family Court system is based on ‘straight forward procedures’. There is MUCH more to it’ Kerry said. There are complex procedural rules and legal questions and although good advice may be sometimes expensive, poor advice can cost a fortune.
On the issue of costs, one Leading Family Law barrister and Advocate of greater transparency in the Family Justice System recently remarked:
‘Just had a desperate email from someone who has spent over £7k in a McKenzie Friend (at £65 ph. [per hour]) that she now realises was a waste of money. Just think how much legal advice she could have got for that amount!’
Kerry also has concerns also about the level of training the McKenzie Friends are getting ‘Do they have insurance cover or a regulator to obverse their activities? What comeback is there for their clients in the event they feel they have been misadvised or if the McKenzie Friend’s act or failure to act results in their client suffering loss or a miscarriage of justice? We Solicitors are all regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and we are obliged to have Professional indemnity Insurance’
Kerry’s views expressed here are not specifically directed to this particular organisation. There has been an increase in the number of McKenzie friends seeking remuneration for their services online. Kerry fears however that if those without lawyers (often very vulnerable individuals in desperate circumstances) aren’t careful, and don’t do their research, they may end up in a situation thereby they end up embroiled in unnecessary litigation and the associated risks such as substantial unnecessary costs, increased acrimony an possibly an unjust outcome. All of which could have been avoided if proper legal advice had been obtained from the outset.