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Lay advocate

The general meaning of “lay advocate” is non-lawyer who has been granted a right of audience, ie permitted to make oral (spoken) representations on behalf of a litigant.

But there is also a more technical meaning, namely a person who who is trained and qualified to provide assistance in court for a litigant whose intellectual impairment or learning difficulties makes it harder for them to follow and understand the proceedings. Despite the name, such a lay advocate does not provide advocacy or other legal services.

This second meaning is described in some detail by Keehan J in In re C (Care Proceedings: Lay Advocates) (No.2) [2020] EWHC 1762 (Fam) at [11]:

“To clarify the position:

(i) a lay advocate does not provide legal services;

(ii) a lay advocate is not a McKenzie Friend;

(iii) a lay advocate is not an intermediary (albeit an individual may be qualified to act as an intermediary and as a lay advocate);

(iv) the term ‘lay advocate’, for the purposes of this judgment, means a person who is qualified and/or has experience of assisting and supporting a party in proceedings who has an intellectual impairment or learning difficulties which compromises their ability to process and comprehend information given to them. The function of the lay advocate is to ensure that the party does understand the information provided and is able to respond to the same and thereby, is enabled to participate effectively in the proceedings. This assistance and support will be required both in court during the proceedings and out of court for the purposes of taking instructions and preparing the party’s case for the court proceedings.”

A lay advocate according to this more specialised definition should not be confused (as appears to have happened in that particular case) with a McKenzie Friend, but the distinction is less clear when considering the more general definition of lay advocate.


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