News that solicitors are acting as McKenzie friends will fuel the debate over unqualified advisers.
The news that some solicitors are ditching their traditional practice to act as McKenzie friends so they can avoid the cost of regulation has unsurprisingly attracted a lot of attention and a certain amount of ire.
At a time when McKenzie friends are already in the spotlight due to the judiciary’s consultation on the unregulated sector, the news has added more fuel to the debate over what the role of a McKenzie friend should be.
There is no easy answer. Either the judiciary can embrace the role of McKenzie friends as an inevitable consequence of cuts to legal aid, thereby infuriating many professionals who sweated blood for their qualifications. Or it could opt to restrict what McKenzie friends can do, particularly when it comes to getting paid, thus preventing some litigants in person from getting help at a time of desperate need.
Neither option is particularly attractive. But the fact that some solicitors are switching to become McKenzie friends to bring down prices highlights the contradictions in a system where the most highly qualified and trustworthy practitioners are also the most policed.
If the judiciary and other parts of the legal establishment accept that regulation can be ducked to offer budget services to clients who otherwise couldn’t afford advice, it raises the inevitable question of what regulation is for. There should not be one rule for those rich enough to afford a solicitor or barrister and another for those who can’t.
The McKenzie friend trend highlights the contradictions in a system where the most highly qualified and trustworthy practitioners are also the most policed.
A recent case where a claimant was ordered to bear the full burden of a £4,400 cost order against her, despite two McKenzie friends acting beyond their remit and racking up wasted costs, highlights the danger this unregulated area can pose.
McKenzie friends sometimes play a useful role in helping support litigants through the court process. But this should be as much as they are allowed to do. There needs to be tighter guidance on what McKenzie friends can and cannot do.
Whatever the outcome of judicial consultation, this issue needs to be addressed.
Chloe Smith is a Gazette reporter