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Exciting new initiative: McKenzie Friends

09 July 2015

We’re really pleased to announce that Jewish Women’s Aid can now offer a new way of supporting our clients: McKenzie Friends. McKenzie Friends are ‘buddies’ who are allowed into court to support a person representing themselves. The McKenzie Friend has a very prescribed role in court: they can’t talk aloud, they can’t represent the client legally, they can’t address the court, they can’t sign court documents. However, what they can do, can be of enormous support. They can provide moral support, take notes, help with case papers, and give quiet suggestions if the client is struggling.

When might it be necessary to find a McKenzie Friend to go with a client to court? Since the legal aid cuts were made last year, DV survivors have found it increasingly difficult to access legal representation. Many women are now having to represent themselves in court, as fewer and fewer solicitors are willing to work pro bono if legal aid is not being paid. The often-traumatic experience of attending court and facing her perpetrator – and her perpetrator’s solicitor – is compounded by the need to do her own legal representation as well, and it can be a scary and overwhelming experience. The McKenzie Friend is there with her to accompany her, to help keep her calm and focussed, and to help her manage the day.

In May and June, a group of London-based volunteers (some new, some existing) attended a 5-week McKenzie Friends training at JWA, specifically for our clients. Organised by HH Dawn Freedman, the group studied legal information related to DV cases, and also worked on the personal communication skills needed to be able to support our clients. It was an excellent course, we are hugely grateful to Dawn for organising it and for bringing together an extraordinary panel of trainers.
The course participants worked very hard, and the ones who graduated are now able to support our clients in court. Thank you so much to everyone involved; welcome to our new volunteers; it is a really positive new initiative.