Law students are being encouraged to offer their services as paid McKenzie friends, under an initiative set up by a law undergraduate and supported by two universities.
The online platform, called McKenzie Marketplace, is supported by BPP Law School and the University of Westminster and claims to provide students with ‘paid in-court legal work experience’. It was set up by Fraser Matcham, a law student at the University of Westminster.
McKenzie friends are able to use the marketplace, which opened at the start of the month, to advertise their services. However, costs are capped and members must adhere to a code of conduct.
According to the website, it provides businesses, law students and individuals to connect with litigants under a ‘simple platform’. It says it will provide ‘affordable assistance’ and that costs are capped to ensure it remains as affordable and accessible to as many people as possible. Matcham told the Gazette student accounts are limited to £25 per hour and £100 per day while business accounts are limited to £90 per hour and £300 per day.
A McKenzie friend can provide support, guidance and advice to litigants with court proceedings, as well as draft documents and position statements, and – with the approval of a judge – speak on behalf of the litigant in court.
A blog post on BPP’s website quotes professor Peter Crisp, dean and CEO of BPP Law School, who said: ‘This is an excellent opportunity for final-year law students, graduates and postgraduates to put their learning and knowledge into practice.’
A consultation by HM Judiciary on the controversial 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.
Despite repeated requests, the judiciary has yet to confirm a set date for when the consultation responses will be published.
Last year the Gazette ran several stories on David Bright, a McKenzie friend who was jailed for perverting the course of justice. Bright, and the wider issue of McKenzie friends, was covered in a BBC current affairs programme which aired earlier this year.
Matcham said: 'I am aware of some issues that have arisen in the past with McKenzie friends, and that is why I took the decision to create the marketplace. When we get applications, each and every application is reviewed by our Members Applications Team to ensure that applicants meet our policy requirements before they gain access to the internal site.
'If a member of our site acts outside of our code, we will terminate the account after following our complaints procedure.'
He added: 'If any member were to give bad advice, the litigant would be able to seek redress as all of our members have to have professional indemnity insurance as part of our code.'