Friday, April 03, 2009

This Is My Friend McKenzie

The 'McKenzie Friend' is a character whom we sometimes see in court, being a lay person who sits with an unrepresented defendant, and helps them with procedure, possibly suggesting questions but without the right to address the court - that is reserved for the professionally qualified. In practice, in the lower courts, we often welcome all the help we can get, and where a lay person, perhaps a friend, or a social worker or even an employer can give us useful information we will listen to what they say. I have personally sat in a fines enforcement court where the open and honest help of a young man's employer, a small builder, played a large part in keeping the employee out of prison. In the small claims court the judge will often allow a McKenzie Friend to address him directly, as this is within the spirit of the quick and simple small claims procedure.
As Legal Aid becomes harder and harder to get we may see more and more of these unofficial representatives. A contributor to this month's 'Magistrate' magazine suggests that this might be a useful thing for senior JPs who are approaching retirement to take on, since they are familiar with court procedures and can save court time as well as reducing stress on people who may never have been inside a court before.

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