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A solicitor’s take on McKenzie friends in Northern Ireland and beyond?

Following on from my earlier post about the status of McKenzie friends in Northern Ireland I would like to tell you all about a document apparently authored by Darren McAuley, a solicitor at Thompsons McClure in Belfast. The blurb on him at the Thompsons McClure website is here.He seems a big hitter in Northern Ireland family law circles, although to the best of my knowledge I don’t know him. Maybe that says more about me than it does about him! He certainly has a lot to say about McKenzie friends as he has written what is clearly an evolving document on the case law about McKenzie friends.

At the time of writing this post his document was hosted on the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s server, and seems written for an audience rather that as a bare research document.

The Word document is entitled ‘A little help from a (McKenzie) Friend and notes that Heather Mills McCartney had not one, not two, but THREE McKenzie Friends for her Ancillary Relief hearing, two of which McAuley claims were professional lawyers, albeit one from a different jurisdiction.

NB. The HTML version can be accessed by Googling ‘ McKenzie Friend Northern Ireland’, and clicking on the ‘View as HTML’ link. I would advise that if you have Word and a good antivirus scanner then you should download the Word version as it contains the ‘Track Changes’ review from the last version.

McAuley posits that

‘McCartney v Mills McCartney 2008 1 FLR 1508 should have resulted in Litigants in Person shying away from litigating themselves or substituting proper legal representation for a MF.  But a suffocating economic climate coupled with scant /inaccurate media reporting of the MF has meant the DIY approach of saving costs and opting for MF assistance has remained.  Like it or loathe it practitioners must get to know the MF a little better.’

McAuley then goes on to muse that

‘Some practitioners may feel that already too many concessions have been made.  Dare I suggest that the qualified legal practitioner may even view the professional MF with a degree of jealousy given that the Friend has no governing body to answer to, no rules or conduct protocols to follow, no formal training to undergo yet still receives remuneration.  After all some of those holding themselves out as professional MF’s pull few punches when they come to providing an assessment of the Matrimonial Profession. “Many of which” to quote one Charity “don’t do a very good gob.  Many family law solicitors won’t follow instructions and simply and lousily go through the motions.  No Solicitor can afford to put in the time on statements or in sleuthing out evidence that you can.  It is not unusual for LIP to be far more aware about recent developments in family law than an experienced solicitor”. Such comments are unfortunate, unhelpful and do little to thaw the frosty relationship between the LIP and MF on one side, and the legal profession on the other.’

Whilst the MF may be considered by some to be an integral piece of the LIP’s fair hearing ‘jigsaw’ and one which is becoming a more frequent sight at court, the Friend is not and never should be thought of as a substitute for experienced legal representation.  Just ask Heather Mills.’

I have to say that whoever would have assisted Heather Mills would have had a difficulty, but that difficulty may have been more to do with the  credibility of the evidence and what Ms Mills did with advice ,and not necessarily with the quality of the advice itself. As a professional McKenzie friend I can assure everyone that I wouldn’t have taken that case on for the original lawyers fee. Persuasive though I am I suspect Ms Mills would have been more strong willed than me and we would have parted, each understanding the others position perfectly!

Welcome though it is as a practising solicitors appraisal of where the law on McKenzie friends sits, I am intrigued about the status of this document. Is it an official document with the imprimatur of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, circulated internally or just something that Darren has written up for a conference or a publication?  Either way it’s certainly out there in the public domain.

Would be interested to see which charity he is referring to that seems to have got in in for solicitors. I Googled some of the text but cant find the reference. Can anyone help? If so pop an email off to me at help@mckenziefriend.com

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