Solicitors and barristers have escalated their campaign against paid McKenzie friends, calling for a blanket ban on remuneration and warning against any moves that could give the public the impression they are regulated.
In response to a consultation from the judiciary, the Law Society warned against plans to introduce a code of conduct to govern the behaviour of McKenzie friends or to incorporate practice guidance into the rules of court.
The Society said this would imply that McKenzie friends are ‘quasi-regulated’ and could ‘inadvertently’ give the impression that the court is regulating them.
Chancery Lane stressed that this is important because the advice deserts created by cuts to legal aid have led to a growing group of McKenzie friends operating as profit-making businesses.
The response said: ‘Some of these try to associate themselves with the stature of legal professionalism while simultaneously rejecting being bound by professional responsibilities. Clients of such McKenzie friends are at risk of being misled as to the status of the person who they are paying for legal help.’
It added: ‘It should always be easy for litigants in person to recognise the distinction between regulated legal professionals and non-regulated providers of services.’
The Bar Council said it is concerned that the development of a code of conduct would be a ‘step on the road to McKenzie friends seeking to portray themselves, wrongly, as part of the regulated profession’.
Both bodies are seeking a ban on McKenzie friends receiving ‘any form of remuneration’ for providing legally reserved activities.
The Society said: ‘The Legal Services Act 2007 is very clear that it is in the public interest for certain activities to be conducted by a legal professional who is regulated by an approved regulator. ‘
It added: ‘McKenzie friends should only be granted the right to litigate in exceptional circumstances, and they should not view such circumstances as being a business opportunities.’
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘Those who can afford legal advice will always get better value for money by instructing a solicitor or other legal professional.
Both the Law Society and Bar Council supported the idea of changing the term McKenzie friend, but rejected the proposed alternative term ‘court supporter’.
The Bar Council said it was concerned this term ‘might have connotations of an official position, which might enable the unscrupulous to market themselves as having a more formal role than is the case’.