Further advice from a Lay Advocate
Here Ian Julian, a Lay Advocate since 2003, describes the various options that are available to give you help in court. You may also be interested in this post – What if I don’t have a lawyer?
• Solicitors and Barristers – These can cost a considerable sum of money but will be able to prepare your case and present it before the Court. Many Barristers offer a Direct Access service, which can provide you with an Advocate in the Courtroom but without the cost of Solicitors preparing, drafting and advising you along the way. This may suit someone of limited means who can handle their own paperwork confidently. More recently, some barristers are permitted (licensed) to Conduct Litigation, which allows them to act on your behalf, such as signing letters and holding client funds.
[Parents in care proceedings are entitled to non means, non merits tested legal aid. After the care proceedings, if you want to appeal or apply to discharge the care order for example, you may find it much more difficult to qualify for legal aid]
• Litigation Friends – These come in many guises and can be more or less helpful and / or experienced. Common Law provides that a person may have any person speak on his behalf in a Court of Law. Courts will want you to have every reasonable assistance and will recognise that the Courtroom is an alien environment for most people in stressful circumstances. While you may be confident and it can be helpful for the Judge to hear from you directly, it may also be useful to have some additional help to explain what you want and why.
You may need a Litigation Friend to assist you in understanding the proceedings if you have a disability such as a learning or speech or language impairment. This can be in addition to your lawyer (more often now that the Official Solicitor is less available).
• McKenzie Friend – in hearings held in private, the Guidance for Family Courts allows the assistance of a McKenzie Friend (to quietly advise you, take notes and to assist you with papers) It is at the Judge’s discretion to allow your assistance and the presumption is in favour of a McKenzie Friend unless there is good reason to refuse you (it should not be an antagonistic relative for example). Please be aware that the recent cuts in legal aid have encouraged numerous McKenzie Friends to offer a service at high prices, which may not always provide a quality or experienced assistance. Always check credentials such as observing media websites and checking for CV’s and experience. A novice wanting to help and gain experience, should not be seeking more than their expenses.
• If granted Rights of Audience, you may have a Lay Advocate or an accredited Advocate,who will present your case to the Court as a Barrister does. The Judge may permit you to have a Lay Advocate if he is of good reputation and can assist the Court in dealing with the proceedings effectively. This can save time and expense for everyone and an experienced assistant will help the Court by guiding you as to what is possible and what is unhelpful. Granting this right for your Advocate to address the court directly will be at the judge’s discretion and he will want to be assured that your advocate is accredited (for example: F Inst Pa, Q Inst Pa, etc) has insurance and completes his Continuing Professional Development.
You should write to the Judge in advance asking permission for the assistance you want to use and inform the other Parties. Your Friend should send a CV to the Judge, which will assist his decision.
Only Solicitors are permitted to “conduct litigation” (i.e. hold client monies or sign letters on your behalf). Direct Access Barristers cannot “conduct litigation” either, unless licensed as described above.
(Author: Ian Julian, F Inst Pa, Advocate since 2003)