A judge has refused a McKenzie friend permission to speak on behalf of a litigant in person, stressing the court should be ‘slow’ to allow oral submissions.
Following a one-day hearing this week, the Honourable Mrs Justice Steyn DBE said the claimant in Ameyaw v McGoldrick & Ors was a well-educated, intelligent woman who was clearly able to speak on her own behalf.
The judge added it was ‘readily apparent’ from the history of litigation between the parties that the claimant had extensive experience of litigation, including experience representing herself. But the judge also said she might change her stance if the claimant could produce evidence of health problems that constituted ‘special circumstances’.
The claim itself is for libel, malicious falsehood, breach of confidence and misuse of private information. A preliminary hearing was held on Wednesday to decide a number of issues, including the claimant’s application for her McKenzie friend, named as Mr Ogilvy, to be permitted to make oral submissions on her behalf.
The judge had already accommodated the claimant’s request to hold the hearing in a physical court, saying she would be disadvantaged by a remote hearing.
But when she applied to let Ogilvy speak for her, Steyn stressed to the claimant that her McKenzie friend would be limited to providing ‘moral support’, including taking notes, helping with case papers and quietly giving advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case. The judge did allow those in court to use mobile phones, given the need to socially distance in court.
The court heard the only reason the claimant gave for asking permission for Ogilvy to make oral submissions on her behalf was, in effect, that she was underprepared because she had assumed that he would be able to. It also emerged in the judgment that Ogilvy had previously been convicted on counts of falsely representing he was a barrister.
The judge added: ‘Given that McKenzie friends are only permitted to make oral submissions in special or very exceptional circumstances, there was no basis on which the claimant (or Mr Ogilvy) could properly have assumed that the court would grant him a right of audience.’
The judgment recorded that when Steyn refused the claimant’s application to grant Ogilvy a right of audience, her behaviour changed ‘very suddenly and dramatically’. She became extremely angry, shouting loudly at the judge and throwing files forcefully down onto the bench. She then appeared to sit down under the bench so she was no longer visible to the judge.
After an ambulance was called by Ogilvy, the hearing was adjourned to later in the day. But the claimant did not return to court, and the defendants – by now the only parties present – agreed to the hearing being postponed by two days to today.
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