When they were bad – they were horrid. The dangers of unregulated McKenzie Friends

On 5th January I made a formal complaint to John Hemming about the activities of the Justice For Families group, [JFF] of which (I assume) he remains the Chair. I raised a significant number of very serious concerns, including that the activities of JFF put vulnerable parents and children at risk of harm by facilitating or encouraging them to leave the country rather than face care proceedings.

I have never received a reply to this complaint. Hopefully, now that Mr Hemming is now freed from the demands of his time spent electioneering, he can devote some time to answering the very serious issues I raise about how JFF operates and how it makes money.

I raise this matter again for two reasons. First because of the recent publication of research in McKenzie Friends which worryingly, establishes that they are more active outside the court room, where presumably they are subject to very little scrutiny – or none at all.

Second, because I have received the following information from a Ms Green about Tim and Julie Haines, the two most active and high profile ‘advisers’ for JFF.

I quote Ms Green’s email to me:

I contacted Julie Haines through a Facebook group. She and her husband Tim Haines met with us claiming that although they don’t cost as much as a solicitor, they would need to be paid as they “don’t work for nothing” and need to “pay their bills”.

However, once meeting with the Haines, they soon went through everything and said there would be a very good chance they could get our children back but there would be a cost. That cost was £1,500. We paid two payments of £500 as we met with them at least 2 maybe 3 times.

These payments paid for a pathetic attempt at a “grounds of appeal” and a “Skeleton argument”. Had we have got a hearing at London’s RCJ we would have had to pay another £500. However our appeal was refused.

We didn’t appear to hear from them after that and we knew they still had the major documents (doctors reports, professionals witness statements,etc). We asked for these back and they said at first they would see what the cost was to send them back and insisted they had a tracking number which already meant they had paid for it. We waited week and nothing. Two weeks…. decided to contact them and they insisted it had been posted and that they would check with their post office. I asked for the tracking number only to be ignored.

My texts and WhatsApp messenger soon got blocked. So we contacted them on facebook. Told them we wanted our documents back and began to tell other members on facebook to warn them only to be abused and blocked then removed feom the group. I found a few others who had encountered the same problem with large payments for next to nothing work (we printed everything) and then the theft of our documents. My husband then contacted Tim and all he got was denial and lies. Then told people on facebook our case “was never going to be successful” yet soon took our money and built up our hopes knowing we lent this money from my pensioner mum and that money was the last of my dad’s from when he died.

They insisted we go to “bank of mum and dad” but they fooled us into thinking we would win this and we didn’t. We travelled to [REDACTED] to them for all this. As much as we love our daughter so much, we now wished we didn’t bother to go to the Haines as we were just desperate targets.

We threatened [to go to] the police and they told us to go ahead, that they wouldnt find anything there. Told us also is we persisted to “harass” them, they would take us to court. So they now go on to make thousands from desperate families for rubbish knowledgeless court bundles and empty promises.

 

In 2010 I had a run in with the Information Commissioner after I left two files of confidential documents in my car. They were stolen after my car was broken into. I was very lucky to escape with a reprimand, rather than the £40K fine which could have been imposed on me as a data controller. The ICO told me that if this happened again, my career would be over.

And this is absolutely as it should be. If I want the status, the interesting work and the money that comes from holding myself out as someone capable of dealing with people’s confidential information and advising them at the most difficult times of their lives, I have to hold myself out to be accountable. If I fail to meet the necessary high standards demanded by my profession. I should be removed from that profession, to protect those vulnerable people who might otherwise fall victim to my incompetence.

So what redress do vulnerable parents have against JFF or the Haines? Are they registered with the ICO as data handlers? What processes does JFF have in place to keep confidential information safe? What is their charging structure? Are they insured? What training do either Tim or Julie have?

We don’t know the answers to any of those questions. JFF and the Haines are utterly unaccountable, offering ‘services’ to the desperate and vulnerable with no guarantee of quality or redress if they get things wrong.  This is simply wrong on every level.

As I doubt very much Mr Hemming will ever answer my questions, perhaps he and the Haines can do what they have been threatening for over a year – take me to court for ‘defamation’. So these issues can be ventilated in open court and a decision made about who is telling the truth.

EDIT – GUIDANCE FOR THOSE CONSIDERING APPROACHING A MKF

See this article I wrote with Paul Magrath and note in particular the questions we think you should be asking:

What questions should I ask?

For those who cannot afford legal representation however, a good quality McKenzie friend can be a real help. We suggest that any one looking to get help from a McKenzie friend should consider the following questions and issues.
1.What are their credentials? Have they been trained in any related or relevant profession (not law, but maybe accountancy, police or social work)?
2.If they charge, how much are they charging and for what?
3.Have you checked whether you could get a similar service from a lawyer? (Some lawyers will “unbundle” services to provide, say, a consultation to help identify the issues in the case and how best to prepare the paperwork.)
4.What level of experience do they have in the kind of proceedings you are engaged in?
5.Can they provide references? Does their website include testimonials and, if so, can you check them?
6.How did you find them? (Or did they find you?) Have you googled them, checked Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media for comments by or about them?
7.Do they have an agenda? If they are from a volunteer organisation, what is their reason for volunteering? Are they promoting an agenda, and if so, does that accord with your case or might it be a distraction?
8.Have you searched on BAILII or other legal websites to see whether they have been cited or referred to in judgments – either adversely (such as those quoted above) or with approval (though it is rare for judges specifically to mention McKenzie Friends unless they cause trouble).

19 thoughts on “When they were bad – they were horrid. The dangers of unregulated McKenzie Friends

  1. John Hemming

    I cannot comment about the allegation you make above as I had a meeting this morning with Tim and Julie before I became aware of the allegation. It is nothing that I recognise. Whether they issue proceedings against you or not is their decision not mine.

    As to your question as to how JFF makes money. If you look at the accounts it doesn’t. I never charge anything for what I do.

    When you claim you had no response to the complaint that is not true. I responded on twitter querying one aspect of the complaint as to whether a particular person was the person you were referring to. Given that you have been asking questions on twitter I take the view that a response on twitter is a response you should accept as being a response.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      You asked me if the woman who had given me information about your activities in France was Stella. I replied that it was. This exchange between us on Twitter can in no way be characterised as a ‘response’ to my complaint.

      My complaint set out a number of extremely serious and evidenced assertions about you as an individual and the JFF in general.

      You preside over an organisation that sends out unregulated, untrained and uninsured ‘advisers’ to take money off desperate and vulnerable parents who face losing their children in care proceedings.

      That you refuse to engage with the issues I raise, other than to offer opaque obfuscation or childish insults is disgraceful.

      I am very glad that the people of Yardley showed sound common sense and did not return you to Parliament.

      Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am very concerned by all unregulated and uninsured MKF as I don’t understand what redress they offer clients when/if they mess up.
      but this is a post about JFF in particular.

      Reply
  2. Lyn Saddington

    I assist parents as a mkf and have no objection to being regulated. I do believe since the government withdrew legal aid there’s a greater need for mkf’s. The other side is that mkf’s mean that you have a choice if you want to self represent or not. Those in this for the right reasons actually care about parents. As much as barristers and solicitors say they do a better job that’s not always the case. Barristers fight a case then walk away, often saying appeals are useless so won’t back them to the legal aid board.
    To give credit to John Hemming at least he has set up an organisation that allows people a chance to appeal. Something has obviously gone wrong in the case above and by your own admission things do go wrong, nobody can say they’ve never had things go wrong.
    I admit Sarah I have concerns over your blogs and their validity because of the people you relied on in the past for facts, they’re known in social media circles to be unreliable, all friends one minute and the next using you to attack John and co. I don’t know Ms Green so can’t comment on this particular scenario.
    In the days of school we were always told to ignore someone we didn’t get in with. You obviously have a problem with john, why keep blogging though? Why not ignore him? You’re supposed to ‘be a barristers of good standing, to me these blogs don’t do anything for anyone’s credibility. We are all supposed to be on the same page of wanting what a right for kids and parents, this sort of thing just causes severe arguments and divides that really are not needed.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I ‘obviously have a problem with John’. I do indeed. I have explained at length, in detail and with evidence why I have the problem. He tells lies and he puts vulnerable families at risk. This is not a ‘school yard spat’ and your attempts to diminish it so do not enhance your credibility in my eyes.

      If you find my credibility to be questionable, then you are very welcome not to trouble yourself to read or comment upon anything on my site.

      Reply
  3. Lian

    1) You must be one of the worst barristers in UK raising the question if you are aware of the laws that punish anyone who uses the Internet to harras, defame and abuse another.

    2) You have something like sexual fantasy with John Hemmings. Reminds me this Movie “fatal attraction” starring Michael douglas and Glen Glose. In this movie Glen becomes obsessed with Michael trying to kill his family, his pets, and Michael. John has Family and a pet. So you are a danger to John Hemming and His family, and his poor cat.

    3) Today in Britain we face challenging moments such as who can govern Britain, what about Soft or hard Brexit? Terrorism the recent Tower block fire, and many serious issues. You have blocked your mind to all these problems and you have decided to harass John Hemmings, by accusing him wrongly. In fact you are the one who have got paid from the Legal aid gravy train few £ thousands failing to protect the children so you can satisfy the local authority and hope that you will represent another victim /parent.

    4) Your deception will not stop there. Lately we have evidence that you have made up false judgements!! Of course you have to do this to support your filthy egomaniac self, seeking attention.

    5) Of Course John Hemmings (your fatal atraction victim) he is not the only one. Those who related or are friends with John are your target to . I mention The Haines couple.

    6) I noticed that the only few people who have suppoted you since you started this are some with mental disabilities.

    7) Have you ever bother to read the Bar council rules? Of course not. To you the word Bar means Gin and tonic shaken but not stir.

    8) When you was challenged by another barrister you run like a child and made a complain, although was you , and also are the abuser the lier, and the disgrace to the legal proffesion.

    So do us a favour and stop harrasing innocent people because your illegal and unlawfull actions , are likely your ticket to the prison, A place that you will find they do not serve Gin and tonic, neither Your weird fantasies of John can last long.

    Reply
    1. HelenSparkles

      Err well, Sarah really doesn’t need me to defend her but she isn’t the worst barrister in the world as far as I know.

      I just vomited in my mouth a little when you said there was a sexual attraction to John Hemming, obviously that would be about my personal views, but I suspect Sarah is not a danger to him or his cat.
      From what I can see of Sarah’s online activity she doesn’t block other issues excepting for John, probably because she isn’t obsessed….

      The legal aid gravy train really isn’t …. Your fat cat lawyer clichés do not wash in the 21st century.
      You need to cite some evidence if you are making accusations of creating false judgements, judgements being what judges do, not lawyers.

      Reply
      1. Sam

        I agree with Helen’s assertions that Sarah is highly unlikely to have any sexual fantasies or attraction to John Hemming or pose any danger to his cat. I suspect that John Hemming feels likewise about Sarah and her cat

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          I most certainly would not cause any pain to an animal, simply because they had the misfortune to be owned by someone of whom I had a very low opinion. that isn’t the cat’s fault.

          Reply
    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am going to leave Lian’s comment up so that people can see, without any doubt, just what I have to put up with.

      It is intriguing how those I complain about, respond that I must be motivated by some kind of sexual lust. But you will have to make up your minds. Hewson claims I am an ‘obsessive lesbian’ but now I read that I am actually motivated by heterosexual urgings.

      Perhaps I just have a very wide canvass on which to express my sexual longings? But I can reassure you all – if I fancy you, then I will ask you out on a date and try and make conversation. I certainly won’t write angry blogs about you, complain to your professional regulator, ask journalists to investigate you etc. I imagine there are easier ways to get a shag.

      Of course I don’t think Lian remotely believes for a moment that I actually want to have sex with John Hemming. But its an interesting example of how sex is used to shame women – I am supposed to be embarrassed by reference to my motivations being lustful. Of course I am not remotely embarrassed – I am however revolted and feeling a bit sick.

      So you get this opportunity Lian because I think readers need to see you for who you are. But you won’t get another, so don’t waste your time or mine with any more comments on my site.

      Reply
    3. Min

      I really don’t know where to begin but suffice it to say that if this is how you engage with people you don’t agree with then good luck, Lian as you’ll no doubt be needing it.

      Reply
  4. Lian

    BSB guidance for barristers using social media
    We recognise that you are likely to want to use social media for a variety of private
    and professional reasons. We have written this guidance to help you understand
    your duties under the BSB Handbook as they apply to your use of social media. This
    applies to you in both a professional and personal capacity, since the inherently
    public nature of the internet means that anything you publish online may be read by
    anyone and could be linked back to your status as a barrister.
    Remember that you are bound by Core Duty 5 not to behave in a way which is
    likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or
    the profession at all times. Unregistered barristers should also bear this guidance
    in mind when using social media; as members of the profession, they are expected
    to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner and are also subject to certain
    Core Duties and other rules. Social media use includes posting material online,
    sharing content, promoting your business as a barrister or networking. This might be
    on sites such as Twitter, content communities such as YouTube, social networking
    sites like Facebook or LinkedIn and internet forums.
    Comments designed to demean or insult are likely to diminish public trust and
    confidence in the profession (CD5). It is also advisable to avoid getting drawn into
    heated debates or arguments. Such behaviour could compromise the requirements
    for barristers to act with honesty and integrity (CD3) and not to unlawfully
    discriminate against any person (CD8). You should always take care to consider
    the content and tone of what you are posting or sharing. Comments that you
    reasonably consider to be in good taste may be considered distasteful or offensive
    by others.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Dear Lian

      If you feel my conduct offends against the Core Duties of my professional obligations – then you must immediately report me to the Bar Standards Board.

      I will of course, should you do so, refer to your comments to me – which are both vile and offensive – as proof of what I have to endure on a daily basis from people who demonstrate what I will diplomatically call ‘bizarre’ behaviour.

      Reply
  5. Pingback: ‘Adoption by Stealth’ – the dangers of rhetoric and the law of unintended consequences | Child Protection Resource

  6. Lian

    I wonder if miss Sarah Phillimore has the time to be a good mother to her children,
    represent clients at family courts miles away from her home,
    abusing, accusing, and bemusing innocent people on line.
    Is she an attention seeker?
    Because her tweets targets people, slandering them, without any human feelings or/and kindness.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes. I am an excellent mother.
      If you have concerns I am not, you will need to call the Wiltshire Emergency Duty Team and make a referral.
      Off you go! Let me know how you get on.

      Reply
      1. Lian

        I haven’t made an allegation in regards your ability to be a good or a bad mother..
        I merely asked how you manage to multitask and abuse people on line.

        Reply

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