• McKenzie Friend Australia

McKenzie Friend - Making justice more accessible

Updated: Jun 9, 2019

It's clear that there is a huge issue about access to justice especially for the low to middle income Australian female.

McKenzie Friend - Making justice more accessible

The proportion of divorces involving children under 18 years in 2016 was 47% according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In 2016, for both men and women, the divorce rate was highest for those aged 25–29 years. After that, divorce rates lower slightly, staying steady for couples during their 30s before a second peak in their later 40s. Plus every year, one in four Australians will experience a legal problem substantial enough to require a lawyer. In 2014, 2.5 million Australians were living below the poverty line. At current Legal Aid funding levels, however, many people living below the poverty line cannot access legal aid. Fewer than 74,000 legal aid grants were offered in 2014.

Media channels are regularly broadcasting around 4 in 10 Aussies are so cash strapped they can't put food on the table. So when even middle-income people are struggling to afford life, how does the average female aging 25-29 and over 40, afford legal services when a separation or divorce occurs? It is clear that there is a huge issue about access to justice when people really need help. Changes in business and regulatory practice – such as solicitors charging fixed fees, charging for specific tasks instead of conducting the entire case a practice known as “unbundling” and use of online courts and telephone hearings – may alleviate the problem caused by regulatory burdens which make legal services expensive.

The term McKenzie friend is not really informative to consumers. It is also confusing as it suggests they are part of the court system, which they are not. A “court assistant” might be a more informative title, though it would mean they are part of the court system. This would give greater clarity to their role and increase awareness to the general public about the existence of such a resource. Especially in instances where consumers have little financial resources to access legal representation at a time in their lives when the family unit has broken down and they need to understand how to efficiently unravel complex family and property issues fairly to move on into their next phase of life.

Alleviating the levels of stress that are inherent in family disputes or domestic violence matters is a starting point and where a McKenzie Friend could assist.

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