The judiciary should act now to prepare for thousands of extra litigants in person who may be vulnerable to exploitation by paid McKenzie friends.
That was the call from the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, which warned the proposed increase in the small claims limit will lead to a surge of PI litigants in person unable to afford a lawyer.
APIL said it was likely the sector would see similar increases in LiPs as those seen in family law following legal aid reforms in 2013, which led to a 30% rise in unrepresented parties.
The judiciary has asked for views on how best to manage McKenzie friends in future, and APIL said changes to the small claims limit will make greater regulation a priority.
‘Some unregulated fee-charging McKenzie friends would likely exploit this influx of potential new clients, and the problems experienced with McKenzie friends in family cases will simply be repeated in the personal injury sector,’ said APIL, which represents around 3,800 lawyers.
'We are concerned that, unchecked, "professional" McKenzie friends would essentially become an unregulated arm of the legal profession, ripe to exploit the inevitable increase in personal injury litigants.’
The association warned that a lack of consumer safeguards leave vulnerable people at risk of those without the training, skills or permission to carry out the work they are charging for.
‘Removing the ability of McKenzie friends to charge money for their services will go a long way to removing this problem,’ said APIL.
A code of conduct for McKenzie friends would at least offer some protection and show the court the individual is aware of what they can and cannot do, added the response.
It was also agreed that a standard form notice, signed by both the adviser and LiP, will provide information up-front for the judge to decide how a case should proceed.
The judiciary has proposed a ban on fee-charging McKenzie friends and recommended those in the sector should sign up to a code of conduct. The consultation was published in February.
It would also require them to acknowledge that they owe a duty to the court and a duty of confidentiality in respect of the litigation, and verify that they agree to abide by a code of conduct.
It also suggested replacing the term McKenzie friends, which it said could be confusing for litigants in person, with 'court supporter’.