A paid McKenzie friend and his accomplice will be sentenced next week for perverting the course of justice, in a case that raises fresh concerns about the burgeoning role of unqualified legal advisers, the Gazette has learned.
David Bright, 48, of north London, will be sentenced on 14 October at Wood Green Crown Court (pictured) after being found guilty of submitting a false report written by someone claiming to be a psychologist during a family dispute earlier this year.
The author of the report, which was not used in court, was Claire Silverstone, who along with Bright worked at an organisation called The Parents Voice.
She will also be sentenced on 14 October after pleading guilty.
A criminal conviction is not an absolute bar to membership of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, the body’s chair, Ray Barry, told the Gazette.
He said that his organisation has a complaints procedure ‘for consumers who believe a member has not lived up to our standards’ and that it ‘verifies that all its members have professional indemnity insurance, against which a consumer can claim financial redress’.
Bright told the Gazette he could not comment until after sentencing, but said that he ‘genuinely believed’ the credentials of the person who compiled the report were genuine. ‘The jury disagreed. I should’ve known but I will willingly take whatever the sentence brings,’ he added.
Last year, another paid McKenzie friend, who called a courtroom opponent a ‘lying slag’ was banned indefinitely from representing anyone in court. Nigel Baggaley also threatened other lawyers, swore at ushers and phoned clerks to say he was ‘coming for’ an opposing barrister.
A consultation by HM Judiciary on the issue of paid McKenzie friends closed in June. It proposed a ban on fee-charging McKenzie friends and recommended that all McKenzie friends sign up to a code of conduct, and that rules governing the courts’ approach to McKenzie friends be legally codified.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said McKenzie friends fall into several categories. ‘They could be family or friends, or pro bono scheme volunteers who may have some legal background; and then there are those who charge for their services, possibly selling services with no legal qualifications and little experience and others who may be pursuing their own activist agenda.’
Bourns warned: ‘Clients of fee-paid McKenzie friends have no assurance of their legal knowledge – and [may] be left with no redress if things go wrong.
‘They are not necessarily cheaper than solicitors, who are regulated and deliver a high standard of quality service for all clients. Our members have witnessed the damage done by inexperienced and on occasions unscrupulous McKenzie friends.’