High Court exposes risk of McKenzie Friends
An unqualified legal adviser assisting on a medical negligence claim has been ordered to pay £260,000 in compensation to his 70-year-old client after giving negligent advice. George Rusz, who holds an Open University law degree but no other legal qualifications, was being paid to advise Paul Wright, who was left permanently disabled after an operation in 2004. Due the poor quality of advice from Rusz the hospital settled the claim for £20,000 in 2011, with Wright ordered to pay £75,000 towards the defendant’s legal fees. The Times reported the judge had said the “most charitable” reading of Rusz actions was that he was “out of depth”, but at worst was “set out on obtaining the maximum amount of money”.
The judge said the level of compensation awarded to Wright was the sum he would likely have been awarded if the case had been conducted effectively. Rusz was also ordered to pay £73,200 in costs. Rusz, who represented himself in court, denied that he owed a duty of care to his client because there had been no contract between the pair. Talking to The Times, Wright said: “If I had been able to access legal aid and enlist a professional solicitors firm I would have had my compensation many years ago”. News of the judgment comes shortly after the Judicial Executive Board (JEB) called on the government to decide on the legitimacy of fee-earning Mckenzie Friends. It referred its findings on the issue to the government at the end of February, following a three-year consultation on possible reforms to the arrangements for litigants in person.
In a 31-page consultation response, the JEB called for a non-judicial body to produce a ‘plain language’ guide for litigants in person. It was also noted that current practice guidance on McKenzie Friends had not been updated since it was issued in 2010. The JEB launched its consultation in February 2016 on the premise that England and Wales should ban McKenzie Friends from charging fees, as Scotland had. This month the JEB’s response said it remained “deeply concerned about the proliferation of McKenzie Friends who in effect provide professional services for reward when they are unqualified, unregulated, uninsured and not subject to the same professional obligations and duties” as lawyers.
owever, it also acknowledged that proliferation “has coincided with the period following the enactment of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012”. It concluded “the growth in reliance on McKenzie Friends, and particularly fee-charging ones, should be considered in the context of the impact of those changes. “It is for the government to consider appropriate steps to be taken to enable LiPs to secure effective access to legal assistance, legal advice and, where necessary, representation”.
The consultation received 156 responses from individual members of the public, 30 from McKenzie Friends and five from academics. The consultation response has now been referred to Lord Chancellor David Gauke.