Observing Belinda McKenzie’s behaviour over the past few years, one could be forgiven for thinking that she has been deliberately setting out to discredit the real, skilled, and often very helpful McKenzie friends who accompany litigants in person to court hearings and assist them by taking notes, help to organise documents, and quietly make suggestions.
For people who are unable to afford lawyers, a real McKenzie friend can be an invaluable asset. Those who fall under the umbrella of Belinda’s deceptively named ‘Association of McKenzie Friends’ (AMF), however, are anything but real.
Belinda and her crew seem to seek out clients whose cases may be used as part of the AMF’s multi-tentacled campaigns, which at least partially consist of seeking proof that Satanic ritual abuse is endemic, and that some monstrous unseen cult is secretly in charge of the halls of power.
As a commentator on this blog stated yesterday,
“It strikes me that Belinda McKenzie’s vision for McKenzie friends is quite toxic. Where Lord Donaldson merely wanted to see an end to them having any weight in public perception as ‘unqualified legal assistants’ – Belinda of that ilk seems to be working hard towards the point where the law moves to ban unqualified assistance of any kind from the court; and thus ensure that the obscurity of McKenzie Friends is something quite indecent!”
The case law quoted in the above-cited piece is quite correct as is the author’s interpretation of the legal position. And that comment is really quite insightful given what has recently happened. McKenzie has played no small part in the authorities making moves that will mainly impact on LEGITIMATE McKenzie friends who do very often do a good job, do have some legal training (and sometimes qualifications) and do carry the requisite insurances etc. And, one suspects, little or nothing to call HER to book.
With the effective destruction of legal aid under way, her actions do have a certain apparent design about them which seems determined to pull the last threads of the rug from beneath the feet of those who are most at risk of injustice. And this is yet another of McKenzie’s scams that cause one to wonder how the heck she gets away with it, and has done for decades.
Indeed, last week, on the same day when Sabine and Belinda were gloating about having downloaded their court costs onto their client, Melissa Laird, the Judicial Executive Board issued a consultation paper which proposes to update, and in many ways seriously restrict, the practice guidelines for McKenzie friends.
In reading over some of the proposed updates, it’s difficult to imagine that the JEB did not have Belinda and company in mind:
2) Developing rules of court – the paper discusses whether the existing Practice Guidance should be replaced with formal rules of court. The courts’ approach to this issue is grounded in case law, and codification into rules would enable reforms to be made, and allow differences for different types of proceedings (for example, between civil and family cases). Codification would also provide greater clarity and consistency in the approach courts take to McKenzie Friends.
3) Providing notice – the paper suggests reforms to help LiPs understand what roles McKenzie Friends can play and any limitations on what they can do. LiPs would need to inform courts in advance if they intended to use a McKenzie Friend, and would give the courts information on that lay supporter.
4) Code of Conduct – the paper proposes that the standard notice process includes a Code of Conduct for McKenzie Friends that they would be required to agree to comply with. This would ensure that, as with legal representatives, they would acknowledge a duty to the court, and a duty of confidentiality in relation to the litigation.
Read from the perspective of the AMF, this would mean that instead of being able to choose whether to adhere to the existing Practice Guidance (which the AMF generally tends to ignore in favour of its own strange agenda), McKenzie friends would be forced to adhere to formal rules of court.
Rather than accepting Belinda and Sabine’s explanation of their role, their potential clients would need to be fully informed as to what a real McKenzie friend may do; and they would need to inform the courts in advance of the role they expected that lay supporter to play.
And all McKenzie friends would be required to comply with a Code of Conduct, which would acknowledge their duty to the court, as well as the need for confidentiality: in other words, Sabine would not be allowed to share her clients’ confidential court documents on the internet. As for ‘duty to the court’, Sabine has stated in this post about the consultation paper that she acknowledges only that “LITIGANTS need support, not the courts!” We assume that this reflects the views of her puppet-mistress Belinda.
Ironically, the most publicised section in the JEB’s working paper is the proposed prohibition on fee recovery:
6) Prohibition on fee recovery – the paper proposes that there should be a prohibition on fee recovery by paid McKenzie Friends in line with the practice adopted in Scotland, where lay supporters may only provide assistance, representation or the conduct of litigation if they are not in direct or indirect receipt of remuneration. The JEB’s intention is to protect the public interest and vulnerable litigants from unregulated and uninsured individuals seeking to carry out reserved legal activities. This approach is also in line with Parliament’s intention that rights of audience (the ability to appear and present a case in court) and to conduct litigation should be strictly regulated.
The AMF is explicitly a voluntary organisation, offering its ‘services’ for free, so in fact this section would have no effect on their operation (whereas the above sections regarding ethics in practice would put them out of business almost immediately). However, we wonder what the JEB might have to say about the proliferation of ‘Donate’ buttons on both Belinda’s and Sabine’s many blogs? Does this fall under the rubric of ‘fee recovery’?
Meanwhile, genuine McKenzie friends, who offer genuinely valuable assistance to litigants in person, and who already behave in accordance with the rules of court, will conceivably have their incomes restricted by the new rules of practice, and may no longer be able to offer their clients a service that is truly beneficial.
We wonder whether Belinda is sitting in her charming home in Highgate, chuckling at the thought.