The protection of consumers “has to be paramount” when it comes to unregulated, uninsured and untrained McKenzie Friends charging fees to people in court, the Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC, told BBC listeners this week.
Speaking on the issue of McKenzie Friends, who traditionally have offered voluntary moral support for people in court but in some cases have now started to charge for their services, Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC today told listeners of BBC Radio Four’s consumer programme You and Yours that clients of McKenzie Friends have no recourse to complain if something goes wrong, as they are unregulated.
The Chairman of the Bar told listeners: “Many McKenzie Friends provide support to people in court on a voluntary basis. The problems start when they offer additional services, such as legal advice and even advocacy, for which they are unregulated and lack training or insurance. It means the people who use them have no recourse to complain should something go wrong, nor are they protected by insurance, which all solicitors and barristers must have in order to practice.
“Anyone who uses a barrister is using a regulated, qualified and insured professional and can bring a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman or the regulator should they need to. That option is not available to those who use unregulated McKenzie Friends.”
During the programme, Ray Barry, chairman of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, which has approximately 30 members, admitted to listeners that McKenzie Friends are not regulated.
Following the programme, the Chairman of the Bar said: “The BBC programme prompted comment. One solicitor emailed me immediately to say she was glad to hear me sticking up for consumers and told me of her own clients’ dreadful experiences of dealing with McKenzie Friends in court, often in complex family cases.”
McKenzie Friends have recently hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. One McKenzie Friend was jailed for three years after being found guilty of multiple offences relating to the services he provided for his clients http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2015/08/25/the-dangers-of-unregulated-mckenzie-friends/
In another case, a former nightclub bouncer turned McKenzie friend was been banned indefinitely from representing anyone in court because of his behaviour towards an opponent. http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/ex-bouncer-mckenzie-friend-banned-after-calling-lawyer-a-lying-slag/5049010.fullarticle
BBC Radio Four’s You and Yours show drew listeners’ attention to the recent article in Counsel magazine, which highlighted some of the main issues relating to McKenzie Friends http://www.counselmagazine.co.uk/articles/friendly-advice
Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC explained that consumers are better off not resorting to unregulated McKenzie Friends. She said: “There is enough variety already in the legal services market amongst barristers and solicitors for consumers to find an affordable option.”
The Society of Professional McKenzie Friends’ website lists two members who charge £125 an hour and one that charges £100, more than many junior barristers charge per hour.
Consumers can now go directly to barristers who are Direct Access qualified for legal advice and advocacy (court work), without the need to go via a solicitor, which was traditionally the only way. Direct Access barristers are now listed on the Bar Council’s official Direct Access Portal www.directaccessportal.co.uk which is free to use.