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, along with the Law Society and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, supported the judiciary’s call for a ban on professional McKenzie Friends.
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has joined the Solicitors Regulation Authority in opposing a ban on professional McKenzie Friends. The LSB said the judiciary had not explained why a ban was necessary, what harm it would address or what the consequences might be for consumers.
England and Wales should follow the example of Scotland in banning McKenzie Friends from charging fees, the Judicial Executive Board has proposed. The board also said that McKenzie Friends should be renamed “court supporters”.
A ‘professional’ McKenzie Friend who targeted people unable to claim legal aid and then defrauded them of thousands of pounds has been jailed for three years. He offered cheap legal services to people involved in cases involving their children or grandchildren.
MPs have called on the government to consult on whether there should be formal regulation of McKenzie Friends, whether or not they charge fees. They said encouraging the use of McKenzie Friends “may in some circumstances amount to a counsel of despair”.
Huddersfield County Court has backed a scheme in which local law students act as unpaid McKenzie Friends to help litigants in person. Duty solicitors at the court will approve suitable cases when the scheme launches later this month.
Junior barristers should get themselves accredited for public access work and act in cases where people are currently relying on paid McKenzie Friends, the new Bar Council chairman has said as he promised to promote direct access to the public.
The Legal Services Board said yesterday that it supports recognition of fee-charging McKenzie Friends as a “legitimate feature of the evolving legal services market”, but also called for safeguards.
In a major speech on the future of the law, the Lord Chief Justice has said “there has to be a single regulator” for the legal professions. He also predicted a raft of radical reforms to the litigation process to make it more affordable.
A new trade association, the Society of McKenzie Friends, is to be launched to represent the non-lawyer advisers who charge fees, as the first step towards self-regulation. The news comes as the Legal Services Consumer Panel concludes that the public interest benefits of MFs outweigh the risks.