Anybody going to court is entitled to have somebody with them giving support and assistance. So it was held in the legal case of McKenzie -v- McKenzie (1970) 3 WLR 472. The issue was where one party was unable to pay further solicitor fees but the other party was legally represented, leaving the case on an ‘unequal footing’. I experienced this in 2013 representing myself in court. Arguing that it was the courts responsibility to ensure my case was being served justly by the ‘overriding objective’ PART 1 – OVERRIDING OBJECTIVE – Civil Procedure Rules (justice.gov.uk) the judge in response decided that none of us would be allowed legal representation at the final hearing. I had applied for my costs to be covered by the other party. But as the Family Courts rarely awards such sanctions, the only other fair outcome was to enforce self-representation. At the time it was a win for me.
A friend consequently recommended that I should seek the assistance of a McKenzie friend. And so, my journey into the world of ‘McKenzie Friend’ began. Little did I know that through that trusted McKenzie friend would I learn so much about the UK family law system in such a short space of time. Going from no knowledge to in dept knowledge was both empowering and disheartening. I quickly realised that you can not rely on the judge or the court to get what you believe is a fair outcome. That is why it is so important to know how the system works and how to navigate the many different governing procedure rules. However, you need to work with the system, one is not getting anywhere going against it. It is rare that a party gets all that he/she wants at a hearing. More often the judge tries to create a balance that gives all parties something.
For me there were 3 apparent learnings that I took away from the process and which today I see as my moral obligation to offer my own clients;
With the guidance of my McKenzie friend, I was able to do many things that I had previously paid my solicitor to do for me. Now when I understood a lot of the issues better it required at times common sense alone. Hence it became more affordable. It was empowering to feel you oversaw your own case. My McKenzie friend and I became a lethal forensic team consumed in the details and the overall important narrative. I learnt to anticipate what the judges were likely to rule.
Secondly, I regained clarity. Navigating the complexities of the system became all-consuming but less confusing. I felt that someone had my back for once, but I also felt more confident in my own abilities. No one knows your case better than yourself! No one can read your mind. It is therefore crucial that you can focus on the real issues and to give concise objective information, especially if you work with a solicitor who you pay on an hourly rate. By knowing the court system, a McKenzie friend can help you identify what is important or not.
Thirdly, all those court documents to be filed and completed seemed less daunting and scary. I could no longer blame my solicitors if there were any evident mistakes written down. It was my responsibility along with my McKenzie friend who became such a trusted ally. Together we manoeuvred the justice system. It became my education, one of the best lessons in my school of life.
Today I am forever grateful to that McKenzie friend. She made me flourish in a time of extreme hardship. The lessons of court educated me to become a better mother, a friend, and a empathic person in the community.
So it is that we as CourtTogether are here today to support you on your journey because we trailed the path before you!