What is a McKenzie Friend ?

If you find yourself as a litigant in person or are considering representing yourself in court, you have the option to manage all aspects of your case, from filing court documents to presenting arguments in court. 

However, for many individuals, undertaking such tasks can be overwhelming, and some assistance is often appreciated. This has led to the emergence of what are known as ‘McKenzie Friends’ or ‘Court Lay Assistants.’

The term ‘McKenzie Friend’ originated from a 1970 legal case called McKenzie v McKenzie. In this divorce case, due to financial constraints, the husband could no longer afford solicitors. As a gesture of goodwill, the solicitors sent someone (Mr. Hangar) to represent him in court. Notably, Mr. Hangar was not authorized to practice law in England; he was a barrister qualified in Australia. Initially, the court denied Mr. Hangar the right to assist Mr. McKenzie in court, insisting that he only sit in the public gallery. When Mr. McKenzie’s case took a negative turn, he appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled that the judge’s decision was incorrect: Mr. McKenzie should have been allowed this assistance in court, leading to a re-trial.

In general, a McKenzie Friend assists a litigant in person (someone representing themselves) in court proceedings. McKenzie Friends provide support, guidance, and assistance to individuals navigating the legal system without representation. They help with tasks like note-taking, offering moral support, and providing general advice. However, McKenzie Friends are not qualified lawyers and cannot speak on behalf of the litigant.

The role of McKenzie Friends is detailed on the family court website, guiding individuals on navigating the family court system, preparation, hearing attendance, and more.

Any unrepresented party in civil or criminal litigation is entitled to a support person, known as a “McKenzie Friend,” to provide assistance in court. While they don’t have the right to act as advocates, the court may allow them a greater role, including speaking for the party if deemed appropriate. However, the court can refuse or remove a McKenzie Friend if their presence obstructs the efficient administration of justice.

In the UK, litigants and their friends faced confusion about the role of non-lawyer support persons in court. A guidance note issued by the Master of the Rolls clarifies what a McKenzie Friend can and cannot do. It emphasizes the right of a self-represented litigant to use a McKenzie Friend and outlines the court’s need to provide reasons for refusal.

What McKenzie Friends May Do:

  • Provide moral support
  • Take notes
  • Assist with case papers
  • Quietly give advice on case conduct

The court may refuse a party’s representation by a McKenzie Friend if it undermines the efficient administration of justice. This may occur if the assistance is for an improper purpose, is unreasonable, or if the McKenzie Friend does not fully understand the duty of confidentiality.

There has been speculation about an increase in reliance on McKenzie Friends due to the global financial crisis and the straitened circumstances of more litigants, rather than using lawyers.

In New Zealand, a McKenzie Friend is an individual who assists someone representing themselves in court, often referred to as a litigant in person. 

Here are key points about McKenzie Friends in New Zealand:

Role and Assistance:

  • A McKenzie Friend provides support, guidance, and assistance to a litigant in person during court proceedings.
  • They may help with tasks such as note-taking, offering moral support, and providing general advice.

Legal Status:

  • McKenzie Friends in New Zealand are not authorized to act as legal representatives or advocates in the Family Court.

Rights and Limitations:

  • Litigants in person have the right to choose a McKenzie Friend to assist them.
  • An MF can be a friend or family member or any professional MF. 
  • The proposed MF should have good knowledge about your court case. 
  • While they cannot address the court, make oral submissions, or examine witnesses, they can provide moral support, take notes, and offer quiet advice on case conduct.

Court’s Discretion:

  • The court has the discretion to allow or refuse the presence of a McKenzie Friend.
  • The court may remove a McKenzie Friend if their presence obstructs the efficient administration of justice.
  • You need to apply to have an MF to attend the court event with you. 
  • Applications are available on the MOJ website

Guidance Note:

  • A guidance note issued by the Master of the Rolls clarifies the role of McKenzie Friends in New Zealand.
  • It emphasizes the litigant’s right to use a McKenzie Friend and outlines the court’s need to provide reasons for refusal.
    Support for Unrepresented Parties:
  • McKenzie Friends play a crucial role in supporting unrepresented parties, especially those facing financial constraints or choosing to represent themselves.
    Emphasis on Supportive Role:

McKenzie Friends contribute to a more accessible legal system by providing assistance and support to individuals navigating court processes without legal representation.

In summary, McKenzie Friends in New Zealand offer valuable assistance to litigants in person, providing support and guidance during court proceedings. While they have limitations on addressing the court, their role is crucial in making the legal process more accessible for those representing themselves.

FDSS offers invaluable assistance to individuals representing themselves in the Family Court, ensuring a smoother legal journey. Choose FDSS for expert guidance, especially during financial constraints, and benefit from a service that prioritises your needs, fosters a constructive environment, and empowers you throughout the legal process. Check the feedback of many parents we have assisted through the process over a decade. 

If you are Self-represened in the Family Court or if you are thinking to represent yourself and need assistance, please Request a Call back to discuss about your situation. 

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