Many of you will have read about the McKenzie Friend who was recently barred by the High Court from acting in that capacity for the foreseeable future. Nigel Baggaley (aka Nigel Quinlan) is a violent ex-con, an ex-bouncer, an illiterate hater of lawyers, who thought he could take on the entire legal system and, quite literally, beat it.

‘i am not constrained like you to behave in a certain way because i am not regulated. I despise solicitors and I am more than happy to show it.’
– Nigel Baggaley

I found myself reading, with increasing incredulity, not just the report in the Gazette but also the comments posted on-line, to which Baggaley himself was an enthusiastic contributor. The gist of Baggaley’s comments was that:
• He hates lawyers
• He earns more than we do
• He hates lawyers
• He is loving the publicity
• And, by the way, he hates lawyers
Most of his comments ended with the acronym “lol”, which, to the uninitiated, does not mean “lots of love”.
It wasn’t just his appalling grammar which caused me such discomfort; it was the response of other readers also posting comments. For example, one reader said:
“Oops! The real world collides with the judicial world, judicial world horrified, having been protected by the despised profession of solicitors for many years! Attempt made to patch comfort zone….probably only temporary. The whole thing is hilarious!”

Except it’s not hilarious. Not at all. This man:
• Called a lawyer a “fucking lying slag”
• Called the chairman of the bench “pathetic”
• “Faced up” to a barrister in the corridor outside court
• “Faced up” to and swore at a court usher
• Told a barrister’s clerk that he was “coming for him”

If I had been the victim of these outbursts, or one of the parties whose access to justice was being impaired, or one of the children whose future was being decided, you would not have found me holding my splitting sides. You would not have seen me smiling indulgently at the roguish humour of this man of the people. You would not have found me applauding a scene in which serious people, courteous people, professional people committed to the proper administration of justice, were prevented from going about their business for fear of being headbutted.

On the contrary, Mr Baggaley’s conduct provides a frightening insight into the future: a future where behaviour like this is tolerated (even, apparently, celebrated by the above reader) because people can’t afford a proper lawyer and turn in desperation to organisations like Mr Baggaley’s (now defunct) McKenzie Friends 4U and DIY Law Shop, whose primary aims are sometimes only loosely connected to the case in question, and sometimes perhaps more closely associated to the McKenzie Friend’s own agenda.

As Mr Baggaley so eloquently asks:
“oooh the NHS is in crisis today – and why? because the fundings are too much for the country to pay. Like solicitors whom charge the government (meaning the poeples purse) thousands of pounds for next to nothing . . . why should the poeple pay your overheads.”

I guess, Nigel, because that would mean that vulnerable people on low incomes would have access to real lawyers, rather than thugs.
But the case also provides a wake-up call to the profession. It seems that for too long now we have sat around bemoaning cuts in funding, rising costs and declining numbers of clients. We seem to have bought into the expectation that the courts will soon be filled to the gunwhales with litigants in person, papers in disarray and no-one having the first clue who the parties are, what the issues are and what the law is. We seem to have laid down and died!

But hear this rallying cry: We have so much more to offer! Our clients DO need us! We know the law, we know the procedure, we now how to prepare a case, we know how to advocate (without the use of threats), we know how to communicate ideas, proposals, hypotheses and deals. We know how to protect our clients, we know how to protect the children, we know how to protect relationships which will be ongoing for long after we have withdrawn. We are professional, dedicated, highly skilled and integrious, and we are not dead yet.

One reader of the Gazette’s article suggested that pupil barristers and trainee solicitors should be required, as part of their training, to undertake pro bono work for people who would otherwise be litigants in person. The reader suggested that this would be a way in which unqualified and unprofessional McKenzie Friends would be rendered obsolete. Although there are many difficulties with this suggestion, it does have its obvious attractions. Of course, there are added difficulties for low income and vulnerable people, but for Mr and Mrs Joe Average, the message is simple, and we should be out there shouting about it.

Maybe we could drown out the likes of Nigel Baggaley.