Despite calls from the Legal Services Consumer Panel in April to recognise fee-charging McKenzie Friends as a ‘legitimate feature’ of the evolving legal services market, hostility towards McKenzie Friends from many in the legal sector remains. Giving evidence before the House of Commons Justice Committee last week Dave Emerson, co-chair of the legal aid committee of Resolution, described a ‘worrying trend’ of commercial McKenzie Friends who pursued their own agendas and who had no professional responsibility either to the court or the opposing party.
- You can download the Legal Services Consumer Panel HERE
Although McKenzie Friends are more traditionally volunteers, entering into agreements to pay McKenzie Friends for ‘reasonable assistance’ (providing moral support, making notes and quietly giving advice) is lawful. McKenzie Friends have no automatic rights of audience, but they can be granted at the judge’s discretion. Increasingly, commercial McKenzie Friends are seeking to exercise these rights, operating in almost direct competition with solicitors and barristers. Frequently offering free initial advice and subsequently charging as little as £15 per hour, but often upwards of £50 per hour, fee-charging McKenzie Friends are presenting an alternative source of representation for those on low incomes in the post-LASPO legal services market.
Responding to the Legal Services Consumer Panel report, the Legal Services Board chair Sir Michael Pitt last week acknowledged that economic conditions and judicial practice were ‘beginning to blur the traditional hard and fast boundaries’ between regulated and unregulated sectors, but has so far been reluctant to formally recognise fee-charging McKenzie Friends as legitimate, warning that they may ‘misleadingly’ be perceived as providing the same level of consumer protection as regulated professionals. Pitt argued for the establishment of a trade association, a system of accreditation and insurance to protect consumers. He also called for information raising awareness of alternative options, such as pro bono services. A judicial working group chaired by Mrs Justice Asplin DBE have been tasked with considering the Panel’s report. In a letter to the Chair, Pitt suggested that the outcome of this working group should be updated and formalised guidance issued to judges.
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