What is a McKenzie Friend?
A McKenzie friend is a support person who sits alongside someone appearing in court without a lawyer – a ‘self-represented litigant’. Their role is to provide practical and emotional support during the court process by helping to keep the self-represented litigant organized, calm and focused. Anyone can act as a McKenzie Friend but generally it is a trusted family member or friend, and ultimately their presence in the courtroom is allowed only at a judge’s discretion.
What can a McKenzie friend do?
If a judge does give permission, a McKenzie Friend can sit at the front of the courtroom and:
- take notes;
- organize documents;
- make quiet suggestions to the litigant;
- provide emotional support;
- pay attention to the courtroom discussion;
- do any other task approved of by the judge.
McKenzie Friends may do all or just some of the above, but above all it is important to decide on their roles and your expectations beforehand.
How to ask permission for a McKenzie friend?
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project’s publication The McKenzie Friend: Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion provides a practical guide to choosing the right person and asking permission from a judge. This resource includes an example of a self represented litigant’s request to have a McKenzie Friend in the courtroom, an explanation of what judges must consider in allowing one, and a list of reasons why a judge may decide to refuse.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that a McKenzie Friend is there as a support person, not to take the place of a lawyer. They are not able to give legal advice, or speak directly to the court except in very rare cases where a judge deems it appropriate. Even in cases where language comprehension is an issue, each circumstance is judged on a case-by-case basis. There are no predictable outcomes or set of criteria that determines whether they will be permitted or to what degree they may assist, and a self-represented litigant should be prepared to go it alone in case the judge denies the request.
Guidelines for Using a Support Person in BC Provincial Court
The Provincial Court has issued Guidelines for Using a Support Person in Provincial Court. The Guidelines make it clear that the Court welcomes support persons to provide quiet help to self-represented litigants in civil and family court trials, although individual judges may decide that a support person’s presence would be disruptive or unfair in a particular case.
The Provincial Court eNews announcing the guidelines also clarifies with information on: how to choose a support person, why a judge might refuse a support person, why the support person is not permitted to attend at a Small Claims settlement or trial conference, or at a family case conference, how to introduce your support person in court, and more.