Since we began delving into the history of those behind the Hampstead “Satanic ritual abuse” hoax in early 2015, we’ve become all too familiar with the questionable behaviour of Sabine McNeill and Belinda McKenzie’s “Association of McKenzie Friends”.
This group preys upon desperate “litigants in person” in the family court system. Rather than doing the job of legitimate McKenzie friends, who may accompany those without legal representation to court, hand them relevant papers, and assist by offering quiet suggestions, Belinda and Sabine’s crew are known for taking on dubious cases and using them to promote their own conspiranoid agenda.
This often involves “proving” that the state is “snatching” children from their loving, caring parents and selling them for profit to paedophiles and/or Satanists. In cases such as that of the Musa family, it can include defending demonstrably abusive parents from having their children removed from their care, or even attempting to “rescue” the children by spiriting them out of the country. In the Hampstead case, it has involved accusing dozens of innocent families, teachers, clergy, social workers, police, and others of heinous crimes, in a completely botched attempt to return two abused children to their uncaring mother and her abusive new partner.
Then there’s the “freeman on the land” contingent, represented by people like Neelu Berry. “Freemen”, or “FOTLs”, believe that they don’t have to pay taxes, debts, or mortgages, and that if they use a particular pseudo-legal language, the courts will be forced to accept their non-payment as legal and binding. This amounts to using magical incantations to sweep away debt, and it has resulted in people losing their homes and cars, and in some cases has led to imprisonment.
FOTL advocates prey on the desperate, particularly those with little education and/or a great deal of credulousness, who have run into financial difficulties. In much the same way as Belinda and Sabine’s “Association of McKenzie Friends”, FOTLers latch onto people who are already in legal trouble, and turn their difficulties into catastrophes.
What’s behind this upsurge of legal woo?
A few days ago, we found an article by Emily Dugan of Buzzfeed, on the results of drastic cuts to legal aid services…and suddenly, a great deal fell into place.
Ms Dugan points out that the number of people going into the court system without legal representation has increased by 520% since 2011 (the year when, coincidentally we’re sure, the “Association of McKenzie Friends” was formed).
Alarmingly, Ms Dugan points out that a recent study, published by the University of Birmingham earlier this year, revealed that nearly two-thirds of the almost 200 litigants in person surveyed in Birmingham did not have A-levels. A quarter had no formal qualifications at all. Further, “Only 45% of people said they had understood what was said in court and 22% did not have English as a first language”.
Ms Dugan quoted Andrew Langdon QC, chair of the Bar Council, who said:
Barristers regularly see litigants in person who have no legal training trying to do the job of qualified lawyers in the midst of difficult personal circumstances. It is simply not fair. Not only is there a risk of injustice, litigants in person inevitably, and through no fault of their own, cause delays, which of course costs money. They can struggle to follow court directions and adhere to court timelines, they might focus on the wrong points or misunderstand the law, and they might even have completely the wrong idea as to which legal issues are relevant to their case.
We live in a modern, wealthy, and democratic society that prides itself on its system of … upholding the rule of law. It is disappointing, bordering on disgraceful, that vulnerable individuals are treated in this way.
We would add that these individuals, many of whom have not completed their formal education, or don’t understand English well enough to grasp the finer points of the legal system, create a rich pool of potential victims for people like Belinda or Sabine (in the family courts) or purveyors of FOTL gibberish (in the civil courts). And this doesn’t even begin to address those with mental health challenges who are facing the court system with yet another stroke against them.
Whatever happened to legal aid?
In her article, Ms Dugan identified the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), 2012 as the killing blow to a legal aid system which had been suffering from decades of being chipped away at the edges.
Since the introduction of LASPO, the number of litigants in person has skyrocketed. Ms Dugan points out,
Ministry of Justice figures reveal that in a quarter of all civil cases fought in the first quarter this year, the defendant did not have a lawyer, an increase of 9% on the same quarter last year. In private family law cases with at least one hearing, the proportion of parties with legal representation dropped from 60% in 2012 to 33% in January to March 2017.
The legal aid budget has been slashed, with the result that the income cutoff for support is tighter than it has ever been, meaning that those with low incomes are walking into court unrepresented.
The government, which has a legal obligation to review the impacts of these changes, has no plans to do so before next year, despite calls from those in the legal profession to look into this severe and growing problem as a matter of urgency.
For those of us concerned with the impact of bottom-feeders such as the “Association of McKenzie Friends”—who will readily admit that they have never won a case (because of your choice of the Illuminati, the Satanic Cabal Wot Rools the World, or the Shape-Shifting Lizard People)—the current legal aid situation is nothing short of shameful…and ultimately dangerous to society as a whole.
Where real legal representation is out of reach for many, conspiranoid thinking begins to feel not just attractive, but downright imperative.
To those who lack the education, language skills, or funding to enter the courts on an equal footing with the well-educated and well-heeled, legal woo will become the tool of last resort. We can foresee this becoming a never-ending cycle, as these people fail in court, leading them to believe they’re playing against a system stacked against them, which will only lead to further vulnerability to a conspiranoid mindset.
This helps to answer the vexing question of how people like Belinda, Sabine, and friends have managed to gain a foothold in the legal system. It’s simple: we left the door wide open.