A recent case of a couple relying upon incorrect advice given by a McKenzie friend in a family court proceeding has emphasised the risk of relying on unqualified help.

Anyone involved in family court proceedings in England and Wales are entitled to represent themselves (they do not need to employ a solicitor or barrister). They may also choose to be accompanied by someone to assist them in court and this person is called a McKenzie friend.

A High Court of Ireland judgment published last month reported that an English couple brought their child into the country in defiance of an interim care order, claiming they were acting upon advice from a McKenzie friend. The McKenzie friend incorrectly advised the couple that it was not forbidden for them to leave the jurisdiction of England and Wales. It was only when they received contrary advice from another McKenzie friend after their arrival in Ireland, that they presented themselves to police.

The court judged that the couple had at best, ‘reckless disregard’ for court orders. It was ruled that there had been a wrongful removal of the child and that there was no discretion for anything other than the return of the child to England.

It is argued that the lack of safeguards or regulations surrounding the use of a McKenzie friend within family court proceedings mean that vulnerable people seeking legal advice are at the mercy of unqualified individuals. Individuals are being driven by funding pressures to seek cheap unqualified advice and have no redress when failings occur.

If you require advice surrounding issues such as marriage, divorce, cohabitation, separation and/or children please contact Ellisons Family Team on 01206 764455.