The High Court has allowed a McKenzie friend to litigate on behalf of a boat owner despite accusations that he was hijacking the case to pursue his own agenda.
Chief Master Marsh said it was the best option for claimant Leigh Ravenscroft – as well as for his opponent the Canal & River Trust (CRT) – to allow Nigel Moore to appear on his behalf when the case comes to trial next year.
Moore had previously represented himself in a case, ultimately ending up in the Court of Appeal against the trust, in which he was successful, although he had been described as ‘somewhat relentless and obstinate’ in one judgment.
The CRT opposed Ravenscroft’s claim for £8,176 after charging him that sum after seizing his boat for being unlicensed. The trust argued that Moore’s involvement had ‘changed the complexion’ of the case and it was a wider attempt to litigate general issues.
The trust warned that Moore would use the claim as part of a campaign against it, and that Moore had been responsible for drawing up both the original 121-page particulars of claim and the subsequent amended claim.
But Moore told the court his interest extended solely to seeing that the CRT complies with the law and he denied that he had taken on the role of a paid McKenzie friend.
In Ravenscroft v Canal & River Trust, Marsh said Moore had shown from the three hearings thus far that he was capable of acting in a ‘measured and helpful way’, although the first draft of the particulars of claim showed a ‘tendency towards prolixity and a "kitchen sink" approach’.
The judge said the relevant starting point was to consider whether Ravenscroft himself was someone who needed the assistance of a McKenzie friend.
Marsh said Ravenscroft’s difficulty in understanding written material, as well as the technical nature of the case, meant it was reasonable for him to call on assistance.
‘To insist now that Mr Ravenscroft should seek out a different McKenzie friend to appear as his advocate and to assist him is likely to be unfair to Mr Ravenscroft and, possibly, unhelpful to the CRT,’ said Marsh.
‘On balance, I am willing to grant permission to Mr Moore to act as Mr Ravenscoft’s McKenzie friend.’
But the judge warned permission was not ‘open-ended’ and could be withdrawn at any time if it was abused.
He would also withdraw permission if Moore sought to delay conduct of the trial and the judge warned both Ravenscroft and Moore that ‘the conduct of civil litigation is not the same as pursuing a public campaign’.