If you are going to Family Court without a lawyer and want someone to help you through your case, a McKenzie Friend (AKA a Lay/Court-room Supporter in Scotland) is a low-cost option. The name “McKenzie Friend” derives from a divorce case from 1970, called McKenzie v McKenzie, where the husband couldn’t afford solicitors for the whole of his trial. Towards the end of his case, Mr McKenzie’s solicitors sent Pro Bono help in the form of Mr Hangar, a barrister from Australia not entitled to work in the UK. The court refused to allow Mr Hangar to assist Mr McKenzie in court. When Mr McKenzie’s case went badly, he appealed to the Court of Appeal who ruled that the judge had been wrong: Mr McKenzie should have been permitted to have this assistance in court and a retrial was ordered.
In England & Wales this High Court precedent gave birth to the practice of people going to court by themselves, but helped by someone with better experience and knowledge – and avoiding the crippling costs of solicitors. The Judiciary have published a guide: Practice Guidance: McKenzie Friends (Civil and Family Courts). This describes the role, in the court room, as a prompter: taking notes, finding a particular document, or reminding a LiP of the points they wanted to make. An MF cannot speak to a judge or act as an advocate – unless a judge makes an exception, or unless the MF has special qualifications to do so, (or in Scotland, which has its own Lay-rules, if the MF is a Lay Representative). An English and Welsh McKenzie friend (MF) can negotiate on your behalf with the other side, outside the court room, in addition to giving help in-between hearings. However, he cannot directly or indirectly conduct litigation for you e.g. sign documents, contact the court office, or write to the other party. You can share confidential documents with an MF and it is allowable for an MF to charge a fee, (but not in Scotland, when the MF is working as a Lay Representative). A LiP must tell the court before a hearing if they want to use a McKenzie Friend and some courts will ask them for a CV or to fill-in a form.
Since its emergence, the MF role has expanded commercially with agents now offering help via pseudo MF-associations or clubs, and practitioners have increased their services in different courts. Cut-backs in the ‘Legal Aid Gravy-Train’ also cut 1/3rd off the UK’s £1.5bn-a-year Private Law, Child Arrangements Industry. As a result, even solicitors and paralegals can be found hawking McKenzie Friend advice. In recent years, the legal profession objected to the spread of MF use. However, a resulting Ministerial Review ended in 2019, without any recommendations, so it seems the role of the McKenzie Friend is set to remain.
A McKenzie Friend is usually not a professional; they do not need to pass exams, or have qualifications, nor are there any official associations or membership organisations. Most MF’s are part time, and come-and-go from this work. As a result, there is no reliable list of MFs. However, you can download our surveyed-list of practitioners below.
Apart from cost-savings, a main benefit of using an MF is to have on your side a legally-knowledgeable parent who personally empathizes with your situation and will, therefore, go that extra mile.
WARNING: Low cost or free services are not the same as getting legal advice, nor do they replace expert assistance in settling disputes about child arrangements following divorce or separation. Free telephone helplines are usually manned by volunteers who are not legal experts.
A general help-service by appointment. Advising is by volunteers, but taken from a bank of information prepared by experts. The information provided is only as good as your question, and you will be referred to other organizations (brokering) a lot of which will signpost you to yet more organizations.
Tel: 03444 111 444 or click above for website
A similar service to Citizen Advice, but specialising in legal issues. Their disadvantage is having few office locations, (which you have to attend). Avoid being brokered to a Court PSU (Personal Support Unit) or “Advocate”/ Bar Pro Bono Unit help. Neither will be of much assistance with Family Court Child Arrangement court cases. Click above for their website.
Law student help, under the supervision of solicitors. The process to get advice can take several weeks. Universities that offer this service include:
The University of Law, Tel: 01483 216 528.
Queen Mary University of London, Tel: 020 7882 3931 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Groups for parents estranged from their children, are an ecliptic-mix, mostly formed as local branches of various campaign organisations – and attendees are predominately fathers. Meetings are run by volunteers, or two or three paid-staff (for the entire of the UK). What help is offered can vary enormously. Some meetings are almost group-therapy for those with limited or no access to their children, while others focus on technical advice for going to court. Meetings in Scotland and Wales are good at assisting low-income parents get representation in Court, (amongst other things), whereas in the majority of England help is about self-representation. The biggest brand in support meetings is ‘FNF,’ although use of this acronym does not mean a meeting is controlled by the charity ‘Families Need Fathers.’
Unfortunately, most Father's Rights Campaigning and Lobbying Organisations have all but collapsed following their failure to influence the UK's 2006 - 2013 review of Family Law and their support-groups have also diminished. Below are the ones still believed to be operating (as of March 2019).
FORUMS & ONLINE GROUPS. Some Organisations provide help via social media sites, or by email. You should be wary of any help that involves you writing down details of your case in the public domain. There is a real danger of Internet Trolls, as well as sites being hacked by Lawyers, PIs and Ex's, seeking evidence in a live Court Case.