Going to court can be a stressful experience. Especially if you’re not in a position to get qualified legal advice and you have to represent yourself.

Having someone to help and encourage you can make a big difference. These people are called McKenzie Friends.

In this article we’ll discuss;

  1. What McKenzie Friends are
  2. What they do
  3. Who can be a McKenzie Friend, and
  4. The potential pitfalls of appointing McKenzie Friends


Key Takeaways

  • A McKenzie Friend is someone who helps an individual representing themselves in court.
  • They provide support, help with case papers, take notes, and provide advice on court procedures.
  • Anyone can be a McKenzie Friend, from family members to solicitors.
  • There are several downsides to consider before appointing a McKenzie Friend. Many lack legal qualification, they could provide poor or harmful advice and there is no professional accountability if things go wrong.
  • There is no substitute for professional legal advice and representation. If your case is important, it’s always better to hire a qualified lawyer.


What is a McKenzie Friend?

A McKenzie Friend is an individual who assists someone representing themselves in court (a litigant in person).

The use of McKenzie Friends is subject to the discretion of the court. A judge can deny their presence if they deem it inappropriate or disruptive to the proceedings.

The term ‘McKenzie Friend’ comes from the landmark case of  McKenzie v McKenzie in 1970. The husband sought help from a friend who wasn’t legally qualified.

The Court of Appeal recognised that people representing themselves in court could benefit from this kind of support. As a result, the role of McKenzie Friends was acknowledged.


What Do McKenzie Friends Do?

The role of a McKenzie Friend often includes:

  • Providing moral support
  • Help with case papers
  • Taking notes
  • Advising on court procedures
  • Quietly giving advice

A McKenzie Friend’s role is limited. They are not allowed to;

  • Act as the litigant’s lawyer
  • Address the court directly unless permitted by the judge, and
  • Cannot sign court documents on behalf of the litigant.


Who Can Be a McKenzie Friend?

Almost anyone can act as a McKenzie Friend. In fact, there are different types of McKenzie Friends;

  • Friends or family – who can provide moral support.
  • Volunteers – from charities who don’t charge for their service.
  • Fee earners – who offer their services for a fee. These can be regular non-qualified people to qualified solicitors and barristers

However, there are certain criteria to consider;

  • Good Character: It’s important that a McKenzie Friend is of good character. Especially if the court needs to grant them permission to assist in more active ways, such as speaking on behalf of the litigant.
  • Understanding of court procedures: While not a formal requirement, it’s helpful for a McKenzie Friend to understand court procedures and legal processes.
  • No conflict of interest: A McKenzie Friend should not have a conflict of interest in the case. Their role is to support the litigant, not to pursue their own agenda.
  • No financial Interest in the case: A McKenzie Friend should not have a financial interest in the outcome of the case. This could influence their advice and support.


The Downsides to McKenzie Friends

Having a McKenzie Friend can be beneficial, especially if you can’t afford legal representation. However, there are several downsides to consider:

Lack of Legal Expertise

McKenzie Friends typically don’t have formal legal training. Their advice may not be as comprehensive or accurate as that of a qualified lawyer. This can be a significant disadvantage in complex legal matters.

Limited Courtroom Participation

McKenzie Friends aren’t allowed to speak or perform roles like solicitors. This can be a significant drawback in situations where you need legal argument or advocacy.

No Professional Accountability

Unlike solicitors and barristers, McKenzie Friends are not regulated by a professional body. This means they are not subject to the same standards of professional conduct. There is very limited recourse if they provide poor or unethical advice.

Potential for Misleading Advice

Given their lack of formal legal training, there is a risk that McKenzie Friends might give misleading or incorrect advice. This could negatively impact the outcome of the case.

Court’s Discretion

The court has the discretion to refuse or limit the involvement of a McKenzie Friend. If the court feels that their presence is not in the interests of justice, it can exclude them from proceedings.

No Legal Privilege

Communications between a litigant and their McKenzie Friend aren’t covered by professional privilege. Any discussions and documents shared with a McKenzie Friend could be disclosed in court.

Emotional Involvement

If a McKenzie Friend is a friend or family member, their emotional involvement in the case could cloud their judgment. This could lead to poor or biased advice.

Risk of Overstepping Boundaries

There is a risk that a McKenzie Friend might overstep their role. Especially if they are not fully aware of what they are and aren’t allowed to do in court.

Potential for Financial Exploitation

In cases where McKenzie Friends charge for their services, there is a risk of financial exploitation. Especially since they are not regulated like legal professionals.


There is No Substitute for Proper Legal Representation

A McKenzie Friend might be a free or cheaper alternative to paying for a solicitor. However, not having proper legal representation could cost you more in the long run.

Before appointing someone to be your McKenzie friend, ask yourself, ‘How important is my case?’

If the stakes are high, we advise you appoint a qualified solicitor to represent you and provide proper legal advice.



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Frequently Asked Questions

Are McKenzie Friends Regulated?

As anyone can call themself a McKenzie Friend, they aren’t regulated.

Some fee-charging McKenzie Friends are members of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends. Members must have qualifications and insurance.

Am I Protected if I Use a McKenzie Friend?

If you appoint a friend or family member to be your McKenzie Friend, you won’t have any protection.

If you pay for a professional, they should provide a good, reliable service. In this case, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will protect your statutory rights.

However, if things go wrong, you won’t have the same protections you would have by using a regulated solicitor or law firm.

What Happens of the Court Refuses My Request For a McKenzie Friend?

It’s rare for the court to refuse your request for a McKenzie Friend. If the court does deny your request, they will tell you why. For example, it might be because they deem their presence inappropriate or disruptive to the proceedings.

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