Paid McKenzie friends should not be allowed to speak in court, the Bar Council has said, responding to ‘serious concerns’ about the negative impact they can have on the administration of justice.
In a position statement seen by the Gazette, the Bar Council said it ‘strongly believes’ legal services, particularly where an individual seeks a right of audience, are ‘best provided by people who are qualified, subject to professional regulation and hold professional indemnity insurance’.
It said the recent decision to bar a former night club doorman from assisting anyone in court after he called a lawyer a ‘lying slag’, provides a ‘clear example’ of concerns over paid McKenzie friends.
Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the bar, said: ‘The concerns we have are these individuals are unregulated, uninsured and have no duty to the court, unlike a barrister or solicitor.
‘When money is involved it changes everything. If people are helping a friend or colleague, that is one thing, but where there are companies advertising their services on the internet and charging for it, that transforms the situation.’
The Bar Council joins the criminal bar in opposition against the use of paid McKenzie friends. In April this year a report from the Criminal Justice Reform Group, chaired by Geoffrey Rivlin QC, said it saw no justification for McKenzie friends to seek fees in criminal cases.
Meanwhile the government said it is awaiting the report updating judicial guidance on the role of McKenzie friends in civil and family courts and said that it has ‘no current plans to regulate McKenzie friends’.
The Bar Council said it encourages all courts to have a pro forma document which advises the judiciary about each individual’s actual or purported rights of audience. But it stressed that its position was purely related to paid McKenzie friends, saying that individuals acting as a McKenzie friend in a voluntary capacity have an ‘important function in the judicial system’.
Ray Barry, chair of the newly formed Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, said it was ‘untrue’ to suggest all paid McKenzie friends were uninsured, pointing out that the society’s 18 members have professional indemnity insurance as a condition of their membership.