Scotland's Lord President Lord Hamilton asked Holyrood 'to defer' McKenzie Friend petition. THIRTY NINE YEARS after the role of a McKenzie Friend was recognised in the English courts, allowing court users south of the border the invaluable assistance of a 'McKenzie Friend' in cases where litigants could not obtain legal representation, Scotland's Lord President Lord Hamilton, has asked the Scottish Parliament 'to defer' the recent McKenzie Friend petition (Petition PE1247) until after the release of the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill's review of Scotland's Civil Justice system which is widely expected to make recommendations on introducing the availability of McKenzie Friends to users of Scotland's courts.
Lord Hamilton claims 'the Review will make a recommendation on this matter in its Report’. “Thank you for your letter of 6 May 2009. This asks whether the Court of Session supports the introduction of a "McKenzie Friend" facility and for reasons as to its view. “As it is noted in the Official report of the discussion of the Committee at its meeting on 5 May, this is a matter which is under consideration by the Civil Courts Review under the chairmanship of the Lord Justice Clerk, the Rt Hon Lord Gill. In its consultation paper, the Review asked for views on the following question; "Should a person without a right of audience be entitled to address the court on behalf of a party litigant and, if so, in what circumstances?"
“In light of this we can, I think, reasonably conclude that the Review will make a recommendation on this matter in its Report. I understand the publication of that document to be imminent. In view of this, I do not at this stage wish to express a view as to the position of the Court of Session on the matter. I should instead wish to consider the matter in light of whatever the Review recommends. If the Committee were to decide to defer further consideration of the petition until after the Review has been published, I should be content to respond further at that stage."
However, while the Lord Justice General may be comfortable in asking Holyrood 'to defer' consideration of the McKenzie Friend petition .. most feel that Scots legal rights have been deferred long enough after an outrageous thirty nine year wait for the introduction of the McKenzie Friend facility in Scotland while the rest of the United Kingdom has successfully used the facility to help individuals access to justice.
For one thing, there must now be an explanation as to why Scots have had to wait thirty nine years to exercise the same legal rights the rest of the country has used effectively in resolving legal disputes ... but a legal insider today answered that question very clearly, accusing the Scottish legal profession and the Law Society of Scotland of blocking the introduction of McKenzie Friends to Scotland's courts simply because it would ruin lawyers business and challenge the Law Society’s monopoly on public access to justice.
He said : "The only reason McKenzie Friends have been kept out of Scotland's courts is money, nothing else."
"If you look at the kinds of civil cases in the Scottish courts, up to maybe 30% or even higher of those could be resolved by the litigant appearing themselves, helped by a McKenzie Friend. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that if law firms lost that 30% or more of their business they would not be making as much money as they have done by maintaining a grip on rights of audience in Scotland for forty years."
He went on : "Forget all those arguments about clogging up the courts with people who are unqualified to represent themselves or don't know the law properly. The court is there to serve the public, not itself or the legal profession's requirement for a fast and protracted buck out of the client's purse. People themselves know their own case best, no matter what lawyers might say ... and if you have a party litigant, assisted by a McKenzie Friend, there may well be much speedier resolutions to a lot of low level civil actions which are clogging up Scotland's courts for no reason other than to generate more legal fees for solicitors who are just out to make a profit out of stringing out client’s civil cases for years."
In all likelihood, this statement is true, as most of the significant legal reforms for civil justice, from the small claims limit (held in Scotland at £350 for 17 years while in England it is up to £5,000), to the public’s lack of of choice in legal representation in Scotland (The reforms of the Law Reform 1990 Act held back for 19 years) and now coincidentally we find the rest of the UK has successfully used McKenzie friends for 39 years .. while the legal establishment in Scotland forbade its introduction .. fearing loss of earnings. If you look at Scots rights in civil justice as things currently stand, all the delays of the reforms I have quoted .. and many I have not .. simply boil down to lawyers being concerned they are losing market share (and thereby, profit from legal fees) to people who can perfectly handle their own legal affairs, rather than going to a solicitor to have their legal affairs mishandled .. as is more often the case than not these days.
As readers will know, I reported on the campaign to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland in previous articles, and efforts to secure a fair hearing for the petition were greatly enhanced by the appearance of Scotland's only independent MSP, Margo MacDonald, speaking on the petition's behalf, also supported by submissions from consumer organisation Which? and law reform campaigners including myself.
You can read my earlier reports on the McKenzie Friend petition here : Battle to bring McKenzie Friends to Scotland continues as Holyrood investigates ‘access to justice’ proposals, also McKenzie Friend proposal gains friends as consumer organisations rally to support petition’s hearing at Scottish Parliament & my initial report on the petition here : 'McKenzie Friend' proposal to Parliament seeks to end 39 years of lawyers monopoly over Scots access to justice
You can watch Margo MacDonald’s testimony to the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee here :
Margo MacDonald speaks on behalf of McKenzie Friends Petition to Holyrood.
It is recognised in England & Wales that Human Rights legislation allows litigants to argue for the presence & use of a McKenzie Friend in their case. It is also of significant importance that in the Lord President of the English courts guidance on the use of McKenzie Friends, where the English Lord President specifically states : “When considering any request for the assistance of a MF, the Human Rights Act 1998 Sch 1 Part 1 Article 6 is engaged; the court should consider the matter judicially, allowing the litigant reasonable opportunity to develop the argument in favour of the request.” This glaring difference between how the English courts treat the McKenzie friend issue, versus the restrictions in Scotland, raises the possibility the Scottish courts refusal to allow litigants access to the McKenzie Friends has violated the rights of individuals for a considerable number of years.
You can read the full guidance for McKenzie Friends in England & Wales in pdf format, HERE and now we must wait on the ‘imminent’ publication of the Civil Justice Review to see how the issue of rights of representation in Scotland’s courts and the McKenzie Friend question is to be dealt with, and at least in the Chairman of the Review, Lord Gill, we seem to have someone who is forthright enough in his views to advocate change …
Lord Gill has already branded Scotland's Civil Justice system as "Victorian" and in need of reform. Lord Gill, who has chaired the review of Scotland's woefully antiquated civil justice system and who is well known for his forthright views, told a Law Society of Scotland conference that "The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that has survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in sustance, its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and, therefore, failing society." You can read more of Lord Gill's comments on the inadequacies of civil justice in Scotland, here : Senior judge hits out at Scotland's 'Victorian' court system and you can download Lord Gill's speech from the Law Society's website (you better download it quickly) here : Lord Gill's speech to Law Society conference (pdf)
You can read more about the Civil Justice Review here : Civil Courts Review
However, Lord Gill’s civil justice review does face a few problems, as the politicians are now realising the scale of his proposals, efforts are being undermined by consumer organisations such as Consumer Focus Scotland, to back up the Lord Justice Clerk’s findings, with a joint Consumer Focus Scotland – Scottish Legal Aid Board survey ruined by elements of the Scottish Government & Scottish Courts Service, restricting the total amount of people questioned to a meagre 35 out of thousands of potential civil court users. I broke this story as an exclusive, earlier, here : Justice Secretary accused of attempt to undermine Lord Gill civil justice review as Government backed survey targets only 35 court users
A source at the Scottish Parliament said today “There will be no delay in the McKenzie Friend Petition as the petitioner himself has already been notified of a new hearing in September. We have to move on, despite the wishes of others not to progress matters which are clearly in the public interest.”
So … McKenzie Friends should, and must, come to Scotland. It is our right. Rather than be second class citizens when it comes to the justice system in Scotland, we should be first class citizens .. and part of being first class citizens with a first class justice system, means taking away the power of the legal profession to dictate who among us has access to justice and who does not. It is everyone’s right to have access to justice and justice will only be done when that is the case.