Before discussing the case, it’s important to establish what a McKenzie friend is and the role they play within court and the litigation process. With legal aid becoming more and more difficult to obtain, an increasing number of people are unable to fund representation.
Court can be daunting and the procedures, etiquette, and overall court experience alien to anyone not used to the environment. A McKenzie friend can offer moral support by assisting litigants in person with case papers, taking notes during the proceedings and by giving advice on any aspect of conduct of the case. However, a McKenzie friend cannot conduct litigation and/or file court documents or statements, nor can they address the court or examine witnesses.
A recent case brought the subject of whether or not Mckenzie friends should make oral submissions to the forefront. The judge refused the claimant’s application as she was regarded as “well-educated and intelligent, and clearly able to speak on her behalf”.
The Judge had also taken into account that the claimant had previous experience of conducting proceedings, and therefore was not able to rely on her Mckenzie friend to make submissions for her, unless she was able to prove special circumstances, i.e. a health condition which would render her unable to address the court. The Claimant responded to the refusal by screaming, shouting and throwing things off the bench, and then sitting quietly out of the Judge’s sight. She was taken by an ambulance, and the matter was postponed.
This case staples the notion that the courts are very hesitant and unwilling to give rights of audience to Mckenzie friends, unless there are special circumstances. The support that parties can seek is limited to that mentioned above, and this will evidently remain the case.
In fact, even though a litigant in person ‘ordinarily’ has the right to reasonable assistance, the court still has the power to refuse this if it is satisfied that it is not in the interest of justice or if fairness does not allow it. Whilst unrepresented parties have this channel of assistance available, it is still regulated and strictly monitored by court. It’s definitely a thought provoking issue, as it shows that litigants in person are potentially unable to receive any material assistance in exerting their case, beyond the ‘administrative tasks’ conducted by a Mckenzie friend.
Case reference: Ameyaw v McGoldrick & Ors  EWHC 1741 (QB)
This article is intended for guidance only and must not be relied upon for specific advice.