WHAT IS A MCKENZIE FRIEND

In 1970, the courts in England and Wales made a ruling that anybody, no matter who, was entitled to have assistance in a court hearing. Someone who could effectively ‘hold their hand’, make notes, and quietly offer guidance to them through the hearing.

This developed over time to a well-established role known as a McKenzie friend. The reality is that the role of a McKenzie friend is unregulated and unqualified. Anybody that is not related to the case can go into court and assist. The court is not keen on family members, close relations, or partners attending.

What does a McKenzie friend need to know?

Anyone can call themselves a McKenzie friend. There is no qualification that a person has to have to call themselves a McKenzie friend. Some McKenzie friends have professional qualifications in law or in other subjects. Others do not.

However, all McKenzie friends need to have some knowledge of family law and how a range of different applications progress in the English and Welsh Family Court. In court, they should know the correct etiquette and procedure, and when and how to prompt a client. They must know how to produce good written statements, fill in court forms correctly, and be able to help a client prepare specific documents such as a Scott Schedule or Form E. A McKenzie friend should also know how to prepare a client for cross-examination and for addressing a Judge and CAFCASS appropriately.

If you need to speak to someone about your own case, you can book an appointment with barrister and McKenzie friend Simon Walland.

If you are thinking about becoming a McKenzie friend yourself, Simon Walland’s McKenzie Friend Master Course will teach you everything that you need to know to become a skilled and knowledgeable McKenzie friend.

A day in the life of a McKenzie Friend

 

My name’s Jo. I have been a McKenzie friend for three months fitting it in alongside my children and a part-time job. I took the McKenzie Friend Master Course with Simon Walland, which I studied part-time. I now feel much more confident that I know what I am doing and can prepare straightforward cases.

If I’m not sure, it isn’t a problem because Simon’s ongoing support means I can contact him for guidance when I need it. I want to share with you what a typical day in the life of a McKenzie friend is all about. So, I’ll tell you about what I did today.

This morning, I dropped the children at school and headed off to meet my client at the Family Court. Today, I was in court with Finn, a 29-year-old painter and decorator and father to Jake. Finn had been told by his ex-partner, Keira, that he couldn’t see Jake, because he wasn’t paying her enough support. They split up six months ago and are both still upset and emotional about the break-up. As a result, they keep trying to score points off each other.

I had a sit-down meeting with Finn last week. He was upset that Keira’s new boyfriend has moved into their old home and was collecting Jake from school each day which Finn used to do.

We spoke a few times on the telephone after that and I helped him to write a Position Statement. He wanted to include things that I know aren’t important for the Judge to know but, between us, we managed to put together a clear and logical statement. It explained the situation well and made it clear what Finn wanted the Family Court to do.

Today, I arrived at the court at about 10am, and after going through security, I looked at the noticeboard to see which Judge we were booked in with. I saw that Finn was already sitting in the waiting room, so I went and sat next to him, and we checked the Position Statement again. I asked Finn to sign it and then went to find the usher who booked us in.

Finn pointed Keira out to me. She was with her new boyfriend, and I went over and introduced myself. Sometimes the other party will talk to me, other times not. Keira was typically cold, and I could see that she was getting ready to argue with me. I wanted to diffuse the situation, so I pointed out that I was only there to help Finn, and that if we could agree on things, we could save arguing in court.

She seemed to become less defensive once she saw that I wasn’t there to cause any trouble. In fact, she agreed to have Finn collect Jake from school and to go back to the original agreement that they had had. We chatted more and she disclosed that she was worried about Finn not taking Jake to football practice on Saturdays, which is why she had stopped his contact at the weekend.

That was news to me, so I went back to Finn and explained the situation. Finn felt that as he only saw Jake at weekends, he shouldn’t have to stand in a field in the rain during his time. I pointed out, as delicately as I could, that it was Jake’s time and Jake obviously liked playing football. Finn didn’t agree but wanted to go back to the original arrangement and collect from school again, so we carried on discussing the football issue.

It turned out that Finn’s family live some distance away and they often have family gatherings, which Finn and Jake would miss if Jake went to football. We discussed the alternatives such as Finn playing in a different team on a different day or asking his family to meet on a Sunday instead so they could go. Finn came round to the idea of asking his family to change their weekly get-together to Sunday but having Jake back to Keira by 4 pm would now be the problem on a Sunday. If he could return him at 6pm, it would work.

I went back to Keira and told her how pleased Finn was to go back to the original agreement and explained the family issue and the required need to change the return time. Unfortunately, Keira wouldn’t agree with the 6pm return time arguing that Jake needed to do his homework and get ready for school on Monday. I felt that I had reached an impasse on this final detail and that we would need the Judge to help to get the parents over this final hurdle. I explained this to them both.

I then sat with Finn waiting to be called into court. When we entered the court, we were directed to the front row to sit on the left while Keira sat on the right. Judge Davies was already there and smiled at us all and said good morning to me.

First, he checked he had Finn and Keira in the courtroom and asked what the problem was. Finn and Keira started to talk at the same time, but the Judge stopped them. He’d read our Position statement and wasn’t impressed about Finn not being able to see Jake because of money. Keira was asked why, and she explained that the situation had changed; she was now allowing Finn to see Jake, but there were still problems. Judge Davies then asked me to explain.

I told Judge Davies that the only issue remaining seemed to be that neither party could agree on the return time on Sunday and gave him further details. The Judge quickly decided that, yes, Jake’s dad should take him to football and that on Sunday he should be returned at 5pm. To help, Jake’s dad would also have to make sure that Jake had finished his homework before returning to his mum’s.

Finn and Keira both agreed that this was a fair compromise. Judge Davies then congratulated them on reaching an agreement, thanked me for assisting and asked us to wait whilst the order was written. Once we had the order written up and had read through it to check it the details were correct, it was time to leave.

The feeling of having played a positive part in getting to an agreement is always rewarding. In those three hours, my negotiating and the final push from the Judge produced an agreement that will be beneficial to Jake going forward.

Every case is different and requires different things from a McKenzie friend. You’ve got to find the role rewarding though, so if this sounds like something you would find worthwhile and be good at, start your journey as a McKenzie friend and complete this simple questionnaire.

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