All parents in care proceedings should qualify for non means and non merits tested public funding i.e. the State will pay the costs of your solicitor or barrister.
Other people who want to be involved in care proceedings, such as grandparents, may not get any public funding. What happens if the cost of paying for lawyers privately is out of your reach?
Another option is to be assisted by a ‘lay advocate’ or a ‘McKenzie friend’. At the moment, lay advocates are not widely used in care proceedings but this may become more common.
The ‘Court without a Lawyer’ website provides a definition of McKenzie friend here, as well another advice for those going to a family court without a lawyer.
Here Ian Julian, a Lay Advocate since 2003, gives some information and makes some suggestions you might find helpful.
Solicitors and Barristers
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. (The Bar Council Public Access directory can be found here
Litigation Friends 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 stressfull 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. This can be in addition to your lawyer (more often now that the Official Solicitor is less available);
– 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);
– If granted Rights of Audience, you may have a Lay Advocate who will present your case to the Court as a Barrister does.
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).
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.
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.
(Author: Ian Julian, Lay Advocate since 2003)