In July 2010, the Master of the Rolls and President of the Family Division issued joint Practice Guidance concerning the proper approach courts should take to the provision of reasonable assistance by non-lawyers to litigants in person (LIPs) in respect of legal proceedings. Such non-lawyer assistants are generally known as McKenzie Friends. Since the guidance – which summarised the case law as it stood in 2010 – was introduced, there has been a significant increase in the number of both LIPs and McKenzie Friends. There has also been a noted increase in the number of McKenzie Friends who provide their services to LIPs on a fee-paid basis, commonly known as 'professional McKenzie Friends'.
In the light of these developments the then Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and the Judicial Executive Board (JEB) asked Mrs Justice Asplin to convene a working group to examine the issue and suggest possible reform. The working group's conclusions provided the basis for a consultation on possible reform and replacement of the guidance with, for instance, rules of court or updated guidance. The consultation also raised the question of how any such rules of court or updated guidance should approach the issue of 'professional McKenzie Friends. In relation to this latter issue, the JEB said that they were 'deeply concerned' about the increase of 'unqualified, unregulated, uninsured' McKenzie Friends not covered by the same obligations as paid lawyers.
The response to the consultation on the role of McKenzie Friends in family court proceedings, announced by the JEB in February 2016, has now been published. The MA provided a response to the consultation and is pleased to see that our suggestions, that a Plain English guide be published to explain the role of a McKenzie Friend and that the guidance for the judiciary be updated, were both taken forward as recommendations.