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Many people going through divorce find it daunting to secure and pay for legal advice and this has become a keener issue since the availability of legal aid has been significantly restricted. However with so much at stake, it’s arguable that the real question is: can you afford not to pay for legal advice?
Some people decide to conduct the proceedings themselves becoming what is known as a ‘litigant in person’. Although on occasions a litigant in person will be given some slack on understanding the court rules and procedures, they will not be allowed to rely on a lack of legal knowledge to circumvent the purpose of proceedings or excuse poor behaviour.
An alternative is to use a McKenzie Friend. The purpose of a McKenzie friend is to provide support to a litigant in person and is not to be confused with a legally qualified advisor. Some McKenzie friends charge a fee for their services and refer to themselves as a professional McKenzie friend but it is important to understand the limit of their role and that they are typically uninsured to provide legal advice.
There has been much in the press about McKenzie friends being evicted from the courtroom and there is a consultation underway about how to regulate them in family proceedings. You may recall the name David Bright who was convicted of perverting the course of justice by submitting a false report. You may also recall the name Nigel Baggaley who threatened legal professionals and called his opponent a ‘lying slag’.
Another McKenzie friend, Mary Bennett, had to be evicted from court by District Judge Nicol because of her aggressive approach. The husband using the McKenzie friend was ordered to pay to his wife £21,285 in legal costs due to his serial non-disclosure and attempt to rely on lack of legal knowledge for flagrant disobedience of the court rules. It has to be wondered whether the use of a specialist family solicitor could have led him down a better path to avoid a costs order being made against him.