Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK

- promoting responsible shared parenting after separation and divorce -

A Friend in Court

The Court of Appeal recently made a landmark decision which will be welcomed by all who act in person - namely that being accompanied by a friend in court is an absolute right, and is not at the discretion of the court. It was also ruled that denial of this right is unfair and strikes at the very root of justice. These rulings vindicate our stance on the matter, and we are grateful to the National Council for Civil Liberties for taking up the issues involved.


The term 'McKenzie friend' relates to the case of McKenzie v McKenzie - a divorce action where the judge had mistakenly debarred the "friend" of a litigant. The matter went to the Court of Appeal and is reported in [1970] 3 WLR 472, upholding the ruling of Lord Tenterden in Collier v Hicks [7 June 1831] that:
"Any person, whether he be a professional man or not, may attend as a friend of either party, may take notes, may quietly make suggestions, may give advice ..."
Litigants in person have been actively pursuing their right to act in person and to be accompanied by friends in court, using our standard letter "A Friend in Court". Odd pockets of resistance have been encountered, with some judges claiming that "friends" are a matter for their discretion; others claiming the case was so simple that a friend was not required, or so complex that a friend could be of no possible use.

Leicester magistrates

In 1990, matters took a serious turn when Leicester magistrates refused to allow a poll tax defaulter to be accompanied by a friend. A judicial review of the matter supported the magistrates, and litigants in person members began to also find themselves being denied assistance in court. Our advice was to stick to the McKenzie precedent - it being a divorce matter - and to claim that the Leicester decision was solely for poll tax issues in the magistrates courts.

Court of Appeal

On 25 July 1991 the matter came before the Court of Appeal and Sir John Donaldson, Master of the Rolls made the following rulings:

The full reports are in The Times 5 August 1991 and The Guardian 14 August 1991.

David Cannon
Originally published August 1991

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