The planned changes to the legal aid system, together with the cuts that have already taken place, may affect many people who are either involved in, facing, or taking, legal action. |
People may now find that their applications for legal aid funding is refused, whereas, in the past, not only would the funding have been openly offered to them, it would have been almost taken for granted that it would be available.
The funding 'safety net' is certainly getting smaller and a little worn out. Many people may just find that it doesn't offer the same protection now that they had come to expect from it. So, how does one avoid just heading straight-on into that brick wall? Will the decision be to, either give up on the legal process altogether, or face having to find a way to hire a solicitor that they can ill afford?
There is no doubt that things needed changing, and that is not the argument here. Everyone has to work smarter in these 'times of austerity' and everyone has to 'tighten their belts' a little to survive. The legal system is no different.
There is another way for those having to tackle the legal minefield...
People need a friend. In fact, to be more precise, they need a 'McKenzie Friend'.
What McKenzie Friends can do:
- provide moral support for litigants;
- take notes;
- help with case papers;
- quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case.
What McKenzie Friends cannot do:
- act as the litigants' agent in relation to the proceedings;
- manage litigants' cases outside court, for example by signing court documents;
- address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses.
In certain circumstances, the court may grant a 'McKenzie Friend' the right to speak in court on behalf of a litigant in person. This is called a 'right of audience'. This may include making oral submissions to the Judge, and cross-examining witnesses. However, the courts are quite slow to allow this to happen, and unless the circumstances are exceptional, it is quite rare.
The most important thing that a 'McKenzie Friend' can do is offer moral support both in, and out of court, and help their client get through the process as smoothly as possible. Attending court is not a pleasant experience for most people, although there are some that like nothing better than to have 'their day in court'. They are however, in the minority. The mere thought of courts can conjure up anxiety, confusion and total despair to all but the very strongest of people. In these difficult and emotional times, it can make all the difference, and a lot of sense, to have someone there to assist them, to guide them, and to prompt them in the right direction.
A 'McKenzie Friend' is not a substitute for good legal advice, if that option is available. But, in these financially difficult times, when legal aid is not as freely available as it was, and people still need to deal with legal matters, it can prove to be a very useful tool in their armour and is, above all, that helping hand at court.
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