According to the Law Society Gazette a paid McKenzie friend has been denied permission to appeal against a decision that banned him from being involved in a family dispute and criticised for describing himself as a ‘quasi-solicitor’.

In the judgment handed down at East London Family Court, Her Honour Judge Carol Atkinson said there was ‘no such thing as a quasi-solicitor’ adding: ‘you are either a solicitor or you are not’.

Atkinson said, in H (Children: exclusion of Mackenzie friend), that the McKenzie friend in question, had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the limitations of his role. The case in question, was a custody dispute in which a father sought contact with his two daughters. According to the judgment the Mackenzie friend runs a company which provides ‘support and services’ to the legal profession and individuals.

In November 2015, District Judge Kathryn Major made an order excluding the same person, who had been acting for the mother of the girls, from the proceedings.  During those proceedings the father of the girls, referred to as ‘F’, complained that this person had been acting ‘outside the boundaries imposed on him’ as a McKenzie friend. District Judge Major made an order preventing him and his company from representing the mother. The mother, joined by the Mackenzie friend, appealed against the decision.

According to HHJ Atkinson’s judgment, he emailed ‘F’ despite being told by him that his continued contact felt like harassment. In his defence he claimed that as ‘F’ was no longer being represented by a solicitor, contact with him was necessary. The judgment also described emails sent by him to F as ‘unpleasant exchanges and yet they are produced by him and relied upon by him to demonstrate that ‘F’ was communicating with him whilst failing to see how inappropriate they are,’ She continued: ‘A legal representative communicating with F in that way would be severely criticised.’

He also allegedly asked a witness if he could make amendments to a Core Assessment before it was handed to the Judge, conduct Atkinson described as ‘utterly inconceivable’.

‘His behaviour in this case goes so far beyond the limits for so long and in circumstances in which he simply fails to understand what he has done wrong,’ she said.

She added: ‘If “professional McKenzie friends” are to assist parents in such emotionally fraught cases they must be sensitive … and mindful of the dangers of becoming an irritant hindering the process rather than giving the assistance that the courts have been used to in the past’.

A consultation by HM Judiciary on the issue of paid McKenzie friends closed in June last year. It proposed a ban on fee-charging McKenzie friends and recommended all McKenzie friends sign up to a code of conduct, and that rules governing the courts’ approach to McKenzie friends be legally codified.

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