Bar Council: use direct access barristers instead of paid McKenzie Friends

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10 June 2016

Chantal-Aimee Doerries

Doerries: little is known about work of McKenzie Friends

Litigants with limited funds should use direct access barristers to represent them in court rather than pay for McKenzie Friends, the Bar Council has argued.

The Bar Council said young barristers often charge “comparable or cheaper” hourly rates than professional McKenzie Friends, which it said should be banned.

The Bar’s representative body was responding to plans by the Judicial Executive Board (JEB) to rename McKenzie Friends ‘court supporters’ and ban fees.

The Bar Council said it believed public access barristers were “an important way of addressing concerns about access to justice” for litigants with “some funds” to pay for legal advice.

“Although this option may not be appropriate or available in every case, members of the public, including businesses and corporations, are often able to instruct members of the Bar directly.

“In the right circumstances, members of the Bar can be instructed for as much or as little work as the litigant requires, meaning they can be an attractive option for litigants who are able to pay for some professional legal assistance.”

The Bar Council announced that it had commissioned independent research led by Dr Leanne Smith from Cardiff University to look at the role of ‘professional’ McKenzie Friends in the family courts.

Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “Despite the seriousness of the issues being dealt with in the family courts, such as matters affecting children, little is currently known about the work of McKenzie Friends, which is why this research is so important.

“We believe that families and the wider public are, in some cases, paying for McKenzie Friends without realising that these individuals are unregulated and often unqualified and uninsured.”

The Law Society and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) also announced their support for a ban on professional McKenzie Friends yesterday.

Jonathan Smithers, president of the society, said: “Prohibiting McKenzie Friends from recovering fees for litigation or advocacy strikes the right balance between respecting Parliament’s will – that it is in the public interest for reserved legal activities to be conducted by a legal professional – while allowing judges to retain the flexibility to allow McKenzie Friends to litigate in exceptional circumstances.

“Clients of fee-paid McKenzie Friends have no assurance of their legal knowledge, and are left with no redress if things go wrong. They are not necessarily cheaper than solicitors, who are highly regulated and deliver a high standard of quality service.”

Simon Garrod, director of policy and governance at CILEx, added: “McKenzie Friends may come from a variety of sources and the majority will be acting with complete propriety, but we do not think it appropriate to charge for legal services without guaranteeing the public sufficient protections and redress.

“We are open to how we as approved regulators can work together to improve standards and ensure the public can be confident in the people who support them through the courts.”

The Legal Services Board joined the Solicitors Regulation Authority last month in opposing a ban on professional McKenzie Friends.

The Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner warned that people were avoiding regulation as immigration advisers by “purportedly acting as McKenzie Friends”.

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