The Court of Appeal President, Mr Justice Seán Ryan and High Court President, Mr Justice Peter Kelly have issued a Practice Direction to clarify the role and limitations of a non-legal person who assists a lay litigant.

The Practice Direction states that litigants may obtain reasonable assistance from a McKenzie friend. However, the court retains the power to regulate the manner in which assistance is provided and to refuse to permit such assistance in the interests of justice and fairness. The Direction states that McKenzie friends have no independent right to provide assistance, act as advocates or carry out the conduct of litigation, nor have they an entitlement to payment for their services.

Specifically, the Practice Direction states that McKenzie friends may not:

  • Address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses, except in rare, exceptional circumstances when a court may permit a McKenzie friend to address the court;
  • Receive payment for their services;
  • Act as a litigant’s agent in relation to the proceedings;
  • Manage a litigant’s cases outside court, for example, by signing court documents.

The Practice Direction highlights Section 58 of the Solicitors Act 1954 (as amended) which makes it a criminal offence for an unqualified person to draw or prepare a document relating to any legal proceeding either directly or indirectly for or in expectation of any fee, gain or reward.

While this Practice Direction relates to the High Court and the Court of Appeal only, it may provide guidance on the role of McKenzie friends in disciplinary or regulatory proceedings where registrants are unrepresented.

The Practice Direction will come into force on 1 October 2017 and can be found here.