An update may appear next week on a consultation into banning paid McKenzie friends, more than one year after the response window closed, the Gazette understands.
In February last year the judiciary proposed banning fee-charging McKenzie friends and recommended all sign up to a code of conduct. It also said the courts’ approach to McKenzies should be legally codified.
The consultation closed in June last year. Since then the judiciary has been unable to give a firm date for when the responses will be published, saying only that they were still being considered.
When it first published its consultation paper the judiciary said it would be in the ‘public interest’ to prevent McKenzie friends charging for their services. A ban would also protect litigants ‘who would otherwise have little or no effective protection, or means of redress, from unregulated and uninsured individuals of varying and generally unverifiable competence,’ it added.
Paid McKenzie friends have come under increasing scrutiny. Before the judiciary examined the issue, a former nightclub bouncer was barred from acting as a McKenzie after calling a lawyer a ‘lying slag’. More recently, another paid McKenzie friend, David Bright, was jailed for perverting the course of justice in a family court.
A study commissioned by the barristers’ representative body the Bar Council, showed that ‘there is enough that is concerning’ to justify efforts to tackle the worst of the sector.
In May, Jeffrey Gordon, the solicitor who worked on the case that gave birth to the concept of McKenzie friends, told the Gazette that they should not charge for their services – but dismissed calls for a code of conduct.
The term was born in 1970 when Gordon worked on a divorce case representing his client Levine McKenzie. McKenzie had his legal aid withdrawn and Gordon offered to represent him free of charge. He asked Australian barrister Ian Hanger, who was not qualified to practise in the UK, to attend court on his behalf.