A paid McKenzie friend has been denied permission to appeal against a decision that banned him from being involved in a family dispute and criticised for describing himself as a ‘quasi-solicitor’.
In a judgment handed down at East London Family Court, Her Honour Judge Carol Atkinson said there was 'no such thing as a quasi solicitor’ adding: ‘you are either a solicitor or you are not’.
Atkinson said, in H (Children: exclusion of Mackenzie friend), that the McKenzie friend, Marcus Bright, had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the limitations of his role.
The case in question, at the Family Court Croydon, was a custody dispute in which a father sought contact with his two daughters.
In November 2015, District Judge Kathryn Major made an order excluding Bright, who had been acting for the mother of the girls, from the proceedings.
Bright runs a company called Maxim Legal which, according to the judgment, provides ‘support and services’ to the legal profession and individuals.
During the proceedings the father of the girls, referred to as ‘F’, complained Bright had been acting ‘outside the boundaries imposed on him’ as a McKenzie friend.
Major made an order preventing Bright and his company from representing the mother. The mother, joined by Bright, appealed against the decision.
Bright, according to Atkinson’s judgment, emailed ‘F’ despite being told by him that his continued contact felt like harassment. In his defence, Bright claimed that as the father was no longer being represented by a solicitor, contact with him was necessary.
The judgment also described emails sent by Bright likening the father’s conduct in court, which allegedly included barging into Bright, to ‘reminiscent of the school playground’.
‘These are unpleasant exchanges and yet they are produced by Mr Bright and relied upon by him to demonstrate that ‘F’ was communicating with him whilst failing to see how inappropriate they are,’ Atkinson said.
She continued: ‘A legal representative communicating with F in that way would be severely criticised.’
Bright also allegedly also asked a witness if he could make amendments to a Core Assessment before it was handed to the judge, conduct Atkinson described as ‘utterly inconceivable’.
‘Mr Bright’s behaviour in this case goes so far beyond the limits for so long and in circumstances in which he simply fails to understand what he has done wrong,’ she said.
She added: ‘If "professional McKenzie friends” are to assist parents in such emotionally fraught cases they must be sensitive … and mindful of the dangers of becoming an irritant hindering the process rather than giving the assistance that the courts have been used to in the past’.
A consultation by HM Judiciary on the issue of paid McKenzie friends closed in June last year. It proposed a ban on fee-charging McKenzie friends and recommended all McKenzie friends sign up to a code of conduct, and that rules governing the courts’ approach to McKenzie friends be legally codified.