Unlocking the Potential of McKenzie Friends: NSRLP Research ProjectNSRLP
This summer NSRLP is working with Judith da Silva, an Osgoode Hall, York University graduate student, on a research project looking at the potential for Canadian courts to accept McKenzie Friends as supporters and helpers of SRLs.
The concept of the McKenzie Friend (MF) derives from a UK divorce case (McKenzie v McKenzie (1970) 3 WLR 472; (1970) 3 All ER 1034) which ruled that a person without counsel could ask for a “Friend” to sit with them and provide them with “quiet assistance” (but not representation) in presenting to the court. MFs are more widely known and used in the UK (the new Law Society guidelines above refer to the use of MFs in paras 54-62). The Judicial Executive Board in the UK is expected to provide new and further directions to judges on MFs later this year.
In light of these developments and some growing interest in the role of the MF (see for example David Mossop, Bring a Friend to Court, Vancouver Community Legal Assistance Society 2004 available at http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/clastest/pages/79/attachments/original/1401251986/Bring_a_Friend_to_Court_Guide.pdf) it seemed timely for NSRLP to conduct some empirical research into Canadian judicial attitudes and ideas about such a role. We have found in the course of our ongoing work with SRLs that while there is remarkably little knowledge and therefore use of MFs in Canada, many SRLs wish to be able to bring a friend (or perhaps a relative) to court with them for moral support, and are uncertain about how to go about this or whether this will be permitted.
Judith has developed a research project in which she is conducting semi-structured interviews with judges on: their views on the potential of a MF, when they would be willing to allow a MF into their courtroom, and what concerns they might have. Response to her requests for interviews has been extremely positive, and interviews conducted to date both illuminating and positive. Further interviews are planned throughout the summer. We greatly appreciate the willingness and openness of justices to participate, and encourage any whom we have not approached and would like to be a part of this study to contact Judith at JudithDaSilva@osgoode.yorku.ca. No prior experience of working with a MF is required – the purpose of the study is to solicit the views and opinions of sitting judges on this question.
The goal of the research – which comprises Judith’s dissertation for her Master’s program – is to create a NSRLP resource for SRLs that will explain the role and function of the MF, and incorporate relevant anonymized data from the research project (for example, when judges would be open to permitting a MF in their court, how to ask for a MF, and whom to bring). We hope that this resource will help to inform both the public and the judiciary.