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Asked & Answered: What is a McKenzie Friend?

by Megan Smiley | Jan 18, 2017
Asked & Answered is a collection of answers to tricky legal research questions, written by Courthouse Libraries staff. Search Asked & Answered here.

WHAT IS A MCKENZIE FRIEND?

A McKenzie friend is a 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;
  • assist in organizing documents and pass them along when needed;
  • pay attention to the courtroom discussion;
  • communicate with the self-represented litigant via notes or whispering (as infrequently as possible to avoid being perceived as disruptive 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.

Links:

Bring a Friend to Court: A Guide (McKenzie friend and BC Supreme court chambers) -
http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/clastest/pages/79/attachments/original/1401251986/Bring_a_Friend_to_Court_Guide.pdf?1401251986

The McKenzie Friend: Choosing and Presenting a Courtroom Companion -
https://representingyourselfcanada.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/mckenzie-friend-final.pdf

Guidelines for Using a Support Person in Provincial Court
http://www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/downloads/Practice%20Directions/Support%20Person%20Guidelines.pdf

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