This is a post from Emma Hitchings of the University of Bristol Law School. She is part of the independent research team investigating what fee-charging McKenzie Friends do and what difference their support makes to people who deal with a family dispute without a lawyer.
In the wake of legal aid cuts, individuals in the midst of a family law dispute who cannot pay for legal representation are faced with a stark choice: settling the dispute outside of court or representing themselves as a litigant in person. However, a new market has emerged to plug this post legal aid funding gap: the fee-charging McKenzie Friend. A non-lawyer assistant who charges a fee for services provided to litigants in person.
Fee-charging McKenzie Friends are a current hot topic in the legal press. Only this week a fee-charging McKenzie Friend was jailed for perverting the course of justice in a private family law case and earlier this year the Judiciary conducted a consultation into the courts’ approach to McKenzie Friends.
In response to the ongoing debate, the Bar Council is currently funding research into the work that fee-charging McKenzie Friends do to support litigants in person in private family law cases. There is very little evidence about the background, skills and practices of fee-charging McKenzie Friends and there is no research on the factors underpinning litigants’ decisions to employ a fee-charging McKenzie Friend or on their experiences as McKenzie Friend clients.
The project comprises three strands:
– Strand one involves in-depth interviews with fee-charging McKenzie Friends
– Strand two involves in-depth interviews with clients of McKenzie Friends
– Strand three involves observation of a number of private family law court hearings involving a fee-charging McKenzie Friend and linked interviews with those involved in the case (litigant, judge, McKenzie Friend, lawyer),
Have you ever paid a fee for a McKenzie friend?
The team are currently in the process of recruiting clients of McKenzie Friends and would like to talk to individuals who have ever paid a fee for a McKenzie Friend to help them with a dispute about childcare arrangements or post-divorce financial arrangements. Potential participants can find out more information by visiting the following website
or they can take part by sending an email to McKenzieFriends@cardiff.ac.uk.
The team expect to present the research findings in a final report due to be published in early spring 2017.