The Law Gazette have recently reported on the case of an English couple, who breached a court order by taking their child out of England and Wales to Ireland, in circumstances where an interim care order had placed the child in the care of it's grandfather. They stated that they had received advice from a 'McKenzie Friend' who advised them, incorrectly, that they were not forbidden from taking the child to Ireland.
This highlights the difficulties faced with McKenzie Friends. These are individuals who offer advice to individuals who do not have legal representation. Some will do so for free, or will offer reasonable, but limited assistance, for a small charge.
However, there have sadly been a growing number of people labeling themselves as McKenzie Friends who charge significant sums for inadequate advice. This has led to a growing concern amongst lawyers that individuals who do not have any legal qualifications and are entirely unregulated, can call themselves a McKenzie Friend and charge for advice.
There have been no steps taken to implement any code of conduct for these unqualified advisers. Stories abound of some McKenzie Friends charging for forms, which should be available for free, or charging for advice which is not fit for purpose. The only way to ensure that you, or anyone you know, is getting advice from a properly qualified adviser is to speak with a lawyer. That also provides the security of being able to take action against that lawyer in the event that you were to receive negligent advice.
In the era of the internet and 'DIY' solutions it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you can save money by cutting out lawyers. However, this may often prove to be a false economy if you are not obtaining advice from a specialist.
The case comes as HM Judiciary confirmed it is no closer to coming up with proposals for regulating the McKenzie friend industry, which has grown as legal aid cuts leave more litigants seeking cheaper alternatives to qualified lawyers. The Judicial Executive Board set up a working group in September last year to expand on proposals first aired in February 2016. Campaigners wanted to ban fee recovery by McKenzie friends and sign unqualified advisers to a code of conduct. A judiciary spokesperson this week confirmed there was no update on plans to regulate the industry, despite repeated calls from the profession to act. Critics argue that a lack of safeguards or regulations mean vulnerable people seeking legal advice are at the mercy of unqualified people with no right to redress.