Dates back to 1970
The bar table is one of the scariest, stomach churning places you can stand audience at. You can have a friend sit beside you to assist. This support person can be a friend or family member or someone like me. We are all known as a McKenzie Friend in the eyes of the Family Courts of Australia.
A McKenzie Friend does not have to be an expert or even have any particular knowledge of Family Law. They are there to sit beside you, help with you papers and keep an eye on what’s going on and keep you on track.
At the other end of the scale your ‘friend’ could really know how the system works (a sort of consultant without being a lawyer) who will be the unemotional bystander and therefore in the best possible position for you to watch and listen to everything in court and quietly whisper or jot down suggestions to you when you are communicating with a Judge or witness. A further article published on the Federal Court of Australia website supporting access to a McKenzie Friend is - Is Access to Justice a Right or Service?
ORIGINS OF THE MCKENZIE FRIEND
McKenzie v. McKenzie was a divorce case in England. Levine McKenzie, who was petitioning for divorce, had been legally aided but the legal aid had been withdrawn before the case went to court. Unable to fund legal representation, McKenzie had broken off contact with his solicitors, Geoffrey Gordon & Co.. However, one day before the hearing, Geoffrey Gordon & Co. sent the case to an Australian barrister in London, Ian Hanger, whose qualifications in law in Australia did not allow him to practise as a barrister in London. Hanger hoped to sit with his client to prompt him, take notes and suggest questions in cross-examination, thereby providing what quiet assistance he could from the bar table to a man representing himself. The trial judge ordered Hanger not to take any active part in the case (except to advise McKenzie during adjournments and to sit in the public gallery of the court. Hanger assumed his limited role was futile and did not return for the second day of the trial.
The case went against McKenzie, who then appealed to the Court of Appeal on the basis that he had been denied representation. On 12 June 1970, the Court of Appeal ruled that the judge's intervention had deprived McKenzie of the assistance to which he was entitled and ordered a retrial.
Ian Hanger AM QC, the original McKenzie friend, is now a Queen's Counsel (QC) at the Queensland Bar. Source: Wikipedia 2019
Australia, New Zealand, and Canada recognise the term McKenzie Friend and it has even spread to the USA. When we use the term ‘McKenzie Friend’ you will not see it mentioned in Acts, Rules or Regulations – its an unofficial term that is commonly recognised in the Court system. You will read its use in Judgments where a Self Represented Litigant (SRL) have used one.
By the middle of the 70’s McKenzie Friends were being used in the criminal Courts of Australia and it appears that by early 1980 it was being used in Family Court cases.
With the dramatic rise in Self Representation and better access to information through the Internet and support groups a ‘McKenzie Friend’ is now part of the landscape of Court proceedings. Statistics do not provide detail on the percentage of cases that use McKenzie Friends, however subject to some minor details all SRL’s can use them.
LIMITATIONS OF A MCKENZIE FRIEND
It is important to acknowledge a McKenzie Friend, is not a lawyer, and therefore is unable to dispense legal advice.
A McKenzie Friend cannot speak or act on your behalf in court or sign documents on your behalf and are there to provide “reasonable assistance” and the judge can refuse to allow them to be involved in limited circumstances. It is illegal for an unqualified and unauthorised person to present a case in court on somebody’s behalf so they will not be able to represent you at the hearings as it is unusual for a judge to grant this authority to a McKenzie friend.
If you want to use a McKenzie friend you should let the court know straight away and supply some brief information about the person. The McKenzie friend should not be personally involved in the case and it is for you rather than the McKenzie friend to justify why they are required to the judge. The other side will also be asked whether or not they object to the McKenzie friend being involved which is why it is best if they aren’t personally involved in the dispute.
For all individuals, women in particular, to have access to active support, understanding, and resources if they can't afford legal representation.
To provide all levels of support needed whenever you need it, to help keep you mentally strong and as happy and healthy as possible through one of the toughest personal ordeals you can ever face - the Family Court or Domestic Violence.
Be civil to all; sociable to many;
familiar with few;
FRIEND to one; enemy to none.