20 May 2010: McKenzie Friends to be allowed in Scotland
Posted by: Toon
Lord President agrees non-lawyers can help people representing themselves in court
Published Date: 17 May 2010
By Christopher Mackie
MCKENZIE Friends are set to be allowed in Scotland's courts, after the Lord President agreed to act on a public petition laid down in the Scottish Parliament, The Scotsman can reveal.
Lord Hamilton will now lay down rules to govern the use of McKenzie Friends, and their official introduction could come as soon as next month, ending months of uncertainty about the system, under which people representing themselves in court are allowed the help of a non-lawyer in conducting their case.
The decision has ended months of wrangling about the system, with Scotland's top judge accused of performing a U-turn after he latterly agreed to setting rules in place despite earlier insisting McKenzie Friends were already available in Scottish courts.
The Scottish courts rules council met last Monday and the Lord President will now lay down an Act of Sederunt to enable the system to become operational.
The rules will be drawn up in the next few days and later published by the Office of Public Sector Information.
It is understood the regulations will include that the non-lawyer helper signs a declaration of interest and outlines their previous legal experience. This condition met with concern from the petitions committee but will be monitored as part of a general review of the system in the coming months.
Stewart Mackenzie, the reformer who laid down the initial petition, said he was "delighted" by the decision, which ended a campaign he had been fighting for some time. "It has been in my mind for a long time," he said. "I am delighted that, after 40 years, Scots now have the same facilities that people in England and Wales already have."
Mr Mackenzie said, despite his long campaign, he did not intend to go along to a court to watch a McKenzie Friend in action. "But I will keep a close eye on the changes and check to see whether the Lord President's plans are put into action," he said.
His cautious welcome was echoed by Consumer Focus Scotland, which had campaigned for McKenzie Friends' introduction at the petitions committee.
It said it was hoped the move would "bring about much needed clarity for litigants, the court service and the judiciary alike", but added the rules would need to be monitored.
Julia Clarke, from Which?, another group that has been calling for the system, said: "We have campaigned for McKenzie Friends for some time. This measure is long overdue and hopefully signals the beginning of Scottish courts becoming more user-friendly."
Meanwhile, Frank McAveety, convener of the petitions committee, also the decision. "This is an issue the petitions committee looked at and we felt it was a welcome addition to the Scottish legal landscape," he said.
"Hopefully, it demonstrates that the work of the committee can make a difference."