For approaching 50 years, litigants in person have used McKenzie Friends to provide moral support, take notes, help with case papers, and quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case. Traditionally, this lay support has been provided on a voluntary basis by a family member or friend, although for some time there have been people who charge a fee for this service. However fee-charging McKenzie Friends meet the needs of litigants who are no longer eligible for legal aid funding but cannot afford legal representation.
McKenzie Friends can principally benefit consumers by improving access to justice and enabling greater equality of arms, especially when the other side is represented. For many litigants in person, the real choice is actually between using a McKenzie Friend or being entirely unsupported – lawyers are beyond their means and free support is not universally available.
Family law clients, in particular, may not litigate out of choice, but are forced by circumstances to fight over hugely important matters, at a time of great emotional stress, in an environment that is unfamiliar and daunting to them.
These benefits are being increasingly recognised by judges and lawyers, as they see that cases tend to progress more smoothly when McKenzie Friends can assist the court by encouraging litigants to separate emotion from the facts, facilitate cooperation with court processes and other parties, help with case papers and so on. At a time when the court system is under strain, this is an important public interest benefit.
Extracted from Legal Services Consumer Panel Report