Published: 27th October 2016
A paid ‘McKenzie Friend’ has received a 12-month prison sentence for perverting the course of justice in a family court.
McKenzie friends are used in courts in England and Wales to assist litigants in person who are representing themselves. McKenzie friends do not need to be legally qualified and can be paid to assist litigants in person as they are entitled to have some assistance with their case.
The McKenzie friend in question, David Bright – who ran an organisation that provides help and support in family law cases called The Parents Voice – received a 12 month jail sentence at Wood Green Crown Court for submitting a false psychology report.
During a case earlier this year, David Bright submitted the report that his colleague and partner, Claire Mann, had produced in order to be used for the case. Using her maiden name of Silverstone, Claire Mann claimed to be a clinical psychologist and thus compiled the report for the proceedings. Bright suggested that he believed Mann’s credentials were genuine and therefore thought that the report was also genuine.
Despite pleading not guilty, it was said that the court did not believe the claims that he made. Recorder Robert Morrison said that he 'could not ignore the seriousness of deceit in a family court' and therefore there was no option but to sentence the pair to prison.
In 1996, Bright was also found guilty of money laundering in the United States – for which he received a probation order that lasted for 5 years. However, this case was not taken into consideration at Bright’s hearing as Morrison believed there was not enough information available.
Claire Mann was sentenced to nine months in prison for the family dispute, after pleading guilty. She was also sentenced to three years in prison, which will run concurrently with her 9 month imprisonment, for running a harassment campaign against a mother at her daughter’s school, and for a false bomb hoax.
Mann attempted to frame another parent at the school, Roz Page, for a bomb threat that was made to a synagogue in North London, after they rowed over an invitation to a children’s party. She tried to pin the threat on Page, sending abusive messages and sending similar texts to her own phone. The box for the phone that she used for this was found hidden in her wardrobe the day after the hoax when police searched her home.
Morrison suggested that Bright should have a restraining order against him, which would prevent him being a McKenzie friend in the future. Representatives of Mr Bright claimed that Bright receives positive references and as such, a restraining order would ‘damage his income and deprive those he helps’.
A consultation, which closed in June, focused on paid McKenzie friends and proposed a ban on McKenzie friends charging a fee for their services and suggested that all McKenzie friends sign up to a code of conduct and follow strict guidelines as imposed by the courts.
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