Since the legal aid funding cuts of 2013, some parents in both private, and some public, children Court proceedings feel that they cannot afford to instruct solicitors to represent them. The difficulty is that the Court process can be difficult, sometimes intimidating and generally a bit of a minefield if you are not legally trained. These feelings can certainly be heightened when proceedings involve your children, family or family finances.
The Court has acknowledged the difficulties that legal aid funding cuts have created and have come up with guidance which allow McKenzie friends to assist parties through the Court process. This does not mean that they represent the party in Court, they can however:
1. Provide moral support;
2. Take notes;
3. Help with case papers;
4. Quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case.
In preparing this guidance, the Court envisaged that McKenzie friends would largely be supportive family members, or friends. However, there has recently been an increased prevalence of Mckenzie friends charging for their services; who are possibly selling a service they are not qualified for. Without legal training, accreditation or a regulated body, some paid for McKenzie friends are capitalising on people who need support the most; charging for a service that is limited and could be carried out by a friend, or pro-bono scheme volunteer for free.
This is a topic which has been raised by the Law Society and will no doubt be explored further to ascertain whether regulated bodies or accreditation should be required. In the meantime, anybody in this position should think carefully about whether they should rely on a paid for McKenzie friend, without considering all the options available to them.
Bright told Ms Randhawa he had "never lost a case" and charged her £480 a month, plus additional one-off charges, to work on her case as a McKenzie friend. She subsequently lost her case and is no longer fighting the adoption of her children.