Parties in the increasingly urgent debate about McKenzie friends have called for a mandatory code of conduct, amid mounting concerns about the behaviour of ‘practitioners’.
A former nightclub bouncer was last year barred from acting as a McKenzie friend after calling an opposition lawyer a ‘lying slag’. In another case, a High Court judgment admonished a McKenzie friend for pouring ‘more fuel on the flames’ in a defamation case.
Ray Barry, chair of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, said that although McKenzie friends should not be judged by the actions of a few, adherence to a code of conduct should be mandatory for all those who charge fees.
The society now has 21 members who have agreed to comply with a code which was recommended by the judiciary in 2011. The society believes that this code should be imposed on all paid McKenzie friends.
Barry told the Gazette: ‘Many courts now require McKenzie friends to complete a form prior to a hearing. That form could ask whether the McKenzie friend is fee-charging or not. If yes, the McKenzie friend should be expected to be familiar with and required to comply with the code.
‘For the non-fee charging McKenzie friends the form should simply inform them that they can quietly advise the litigant but also that they may not address the court.’
HM Judiciary is in the process of completing a keenly awaited review of McKenzie friends. A previous recommendation for a code of conduct was not implemented by the government. A spokesperson for the judiciary said that a consultation on McKenzie friends is under consideration and is expected to be published shortly.
The Gazette understands that the report could be a deciding factor in whether the government legislates to ban the provision of unqualified assistance as a business. However, the HM Judiciary report will look only at those who charge for their services.