McKenzie Friends

A team of 16 Newcastle University law students is undergoing intensive training to enable them to go to court to support victims of domestic abuse in the North East. The students, who are all studying for Bachelor's degrees in Newcastle University's Law School, are training to become 'McKenzie Friends', so-called after a legal case in which the Judge ruled that victims of abuse could have non-legally qualified help in court.

By participating in the Newcastle University pilot scheme, the 16 students enrolled on the scheme will be able to gain academic credit by writing-up their experiences in a Research module. They will undergo a two-day intensive training course, led by Steve Connor, of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, and involving Northumbria Police officers, a District Judge and role-play actors. It will include lectures and training sessions in client handling, interview technique and court processes.

Mr Connor, a London-based barrister, founded the National Centre for Domestic Violence, after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner. He said: 'In very many cases, victims of domestic violence are women and men who are, for whatever reason, not eligible for public funding but neither can afford to pay the services of a solicitor. In those circumstances it can be very hard to find any help and going to court without legal representation and standing up in front of a judge to ask for an order to stop their partner abusing them can be a terrible experience and that's where NCDV can step in', he said.

Although not entitled to address the court, a McKenzie Friend can sit alongside the victim in court, offering moral support and advice by passing notes or whispered messages.

Ashley Wilton, Head of Newcastle University Law School, said: ' The scheme will make a real difference to the lives of some of our region's most vulnerable people. An essential part of Newcastle University's mission is to play a leading role in matters such as social development. The Law School is therefore committed to external engagement with the communities of the North East of England. The scheme also provides an unparalleled opportunity for Newcastle University students to gain valuable experience in interacting with the police and the judiciary. Acting as McKenzie Friends will enable them to learn from real-life situations, which will in turn help them mature as individuals, and improve their overall employability as graduates'

Detective Chief Inspector Max Black, head of the Public Protection Unit in Northumbria Police's Crime Department, said: 'We are committed to tackling domestic abuse and working with partners to ensure that support is given to victims and offenders brought to justice. This training is an opportunity to provide support for victims in the civil courts, alongside any criminal prosecution. Our 'End the Silence' campaign last Christmas helped raise awareness and resulted in an increase in reported incidents of abuse and offenders punished through the criminal courts. We wish to involve our first line managers in this training to better understand each other's role in protecting victims of domestic abuse'

published on: 4th October 2007