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McKenzie Friends for Scotland backed by Ministry of Justice & Consumer Focus as Holyrood petition moves to end 40 year Scots access to justice delay

04 Aug

moj-logoUK’s Ministry of Justice & Consumer Focus support introduction of McKenzie Friends in Scotland. Evidence submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee by the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Consumer Focus Scotland in favour of the McKenzie friend Petition 1247, demonstrates that ‘McKenzie Friends’ should be introduced in the Scottish Courts as a matter of urgency so that the rising numbers of members of the public who cannot afford or obtain legal representation in Scotland for a variety of reasons, can access the help & assistance of a ‘McKenzie Friend’ so they may handle their own legal affairs in Scotland’s restrictive & unfriendly courts system.

Lord HamiltonLord President Lord Hamilton – the only one so far to suggest more delays to the introduction of McKenzie Friends in Scotland. The written evidence so far lodged for Petition PE1249 – McKenzie Friends, has, with the exception of suggestions by Lord Hamilton to defer parliamentary consideration of the petition, been mostly supportive of the aim to introduce the facility of having a ‘McKenzie Friend’ accompany party litigants in Scotland’s courts, a facility which has existed in England & Wales for FORTY YEARS. However, the steady stream of support for Petition 1247 from consumer organisations and law reform campaigners, is raising questions on just why Scottish politicians have done nothing for the past forty years to bring equality to rights of Scottish court users, while the rest of the UK has enjoyed such an invaluable courtroom facility for so long.

You can view & download submissions to the Scottish Parliament in support of Petition 1247, from the Scottish Parliament’s website HERE or alternatively HERE

You can watch earlier video coverage of the Petitions Committee debate on the McKenzie Friend petition, here : Margo MacDonald MSP speaks at Holyrood on the merits of McKenzie Friends and my earlier reports on the progress of Petition 1247, to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland, are here : Bringing a McKenzie Friend to Scotland

Ministry of Justice on McKenzie Friends for ScotlandUK’s Ministry of Justice supports advantages of having a McKenzie Friend in court. Bridget Prentice MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice, writes : “The main advantage of a McKenzie Friend is to further the interests of justice by achieving a level playing field and ensuring a fair hearing. This is because a McKenzie Friend is allowed to quietly assist a Litigant in Person at hearings by taking notes, making suggestions, and giving advice to the Litigant in Person when called upon. That is why there has to be very compelling reasons for the court not to allow a Litigant in Person to have a McKenzie Friend. However a McKenzie Friend has no right to conduct litigation and has no right of audience.

The Under Secretary of State went on to say that : “Most unrepresented litigants cannot afford lawyers and to ensure that justice is done, it is vital that unrepresented litigants can access help to comprehend the law and procedure.” You can read the full Ministry of Justice letter to the Petitions Committee HERE

Consumer Focus on McKenzie Friends in Scotland 3Consumer Focus Scotland also supports the introduction of McKenzie Friends. Martyn Evans, Director of Consumer Focus Scotland said in his letter to the Petitions Committee : “Consumer Focus Scotland therefore supports the introduction of McKenzie Friends in Scotland. The SCC made such a representation in its response to the civil courts review. We see the introduction of such a measure as offering valuable support to unrepresented litigants. By providing moral support or indeed offering guidance, for example suggesting questions for the litigant to ask, a McKenzie Friend may help the litigant t present their case better, which we see as an advantage not only to the unrepresented litigant but also to the court and the other party in the litigation.

Mr Evans went onto say : “The value of a McKenzie Friend has been recognised by the President of the Family Division of the Judiciary of England and Wales, whose guidance on McKenzie Friends sates that allowing a McKenzie Friend to assist a unrepresented litigant ‘will often be of advantage to the court in ensuring the litigant in person [unrepresented litigant] receives a fair hearing. The presumption in England and Wales is strongly in favour of McKenzie Friends being allowed. We would like to see such a presumption adopted in Scotland”. You can read Consumer Focus Scotland’s submission to the Petitions Committee HERE

Law Society of ScotlandLaw Society of Scotland are rumoured to be planning to obstruct introduction of McKenzie Friends in Scotland. While the petition has received support from consumer organisations, justice officials from south of the border, and some politicians, the Law Society of Scotland is rumoured to be ‘very angry’ over the proposals, worried that its member legal firms, who are already short of business, will lose out to members of the public ‘wising up’ to the advantage of presenting their own case, assisted by a McKenzie Friend, rather than trying to hire solicitors and expensive legal teams, who claim huge experience on all things legal but will invariably lose their client’s case, albeit a few years and tens of thousands of pounds down the line.

A legal insider today accused the Law Society of Scotland of ‘plotting against the introduction of McKenzie Friends’, saying : “Its all about money as it always has been. The Law Society know its not in their members financial interests to allow the use of McKenzie Friends in Scotland and this is solely why McKenzie Friends have been kept out of Scotland’s courts for the past forty years. Anyone who doesn’t realise that is living in cloud cuckoo land.”

He went on : “I have heard there has been debate within the Law Society whether to obstruct the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland. I would therefore encourage campaigners to be on their guard against any dirty tricks from the legal profession to stall progress on this issue, even if Lord Gill does recommend McKenzie Friends be introduced as we all expect him to do.”

MacAskill tight lippedWill Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill allow McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s courts, or play for time for more delays and more solicitors profits ? Well, little surprise these proposals are upsetting the Law Society of Scotland and lawyers who are more concerned with making money than giving the public access to the courts we all pay for through our taxes … but the market protectionism of the legal profession in trying to control ordinary people’s access to justice cannot be allowed to continue. McKenzie Friends must be introduced to Scotland, indeed, as a matter of urgency, and those who are responsible for access to justice being held back for these past forty years must face the questions, and perhaps be thrown out of the justice system for their ill deserved hold over the public’s right to have a fair hearing in the courts we pay for.

It is however, clearly the case that Scotland’s courts and the judiciary cannot be trusted on access to justice reforms such as the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland’s courts. Simply if they could be trusted, we wouldn’t be here forty years later writing about it and asking the Scottish Parliament to legislate to introduce increased rights of access to justice for Scots, because of the fact that Scotland’s courts themselves have failed to do so.

The Scottish Parliament must therefore legislate to allow the use of McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s courts, rather than leaving it up to the judiciary, who if they could I’m sure, would with the rest of Scotland’s closed shop legal profession, cook up another forty year delay to implementation of wider access to justice in Scotland. That simply will not do.

Allowing McKenzie Friends in Scotland’s courts, and indeed, opening up the rights of audience system where your legal representative doesn’t need to be a member of the Law Society of Scotland or Faculty of Advocates, will lose the current Law Society controlled legal profession a lot of cases. That is a good thing for the public and a good thing for justice. Justice, and the public’s access to it should not be about profit and wealth, it is about Human Rights and the right to a fair hearing of a matter of law affecting a person’s life.

Support the introduction of McKenzie Friends in Scotland, and make your feelings known on this to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee. You can support the McKenzie friend Petition 1247 by contacting the Petitions Committee via their email at : petitions@scottish.parliament.uk

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