An ex senior lawyer is turning the legal system on its head by offering training for self litigants. Historically a lack of resources—in time, money or knowledge negatively prejudices legal outcomes but Vinay Deobhakta is empowering people who may be on lower incomes with knowledge to win in the court room.
Greater access to justice
His most recent ‘McKenzie friend self litigant one day workshop’ held at the MIT campus in Manukau recently was a huge success, especially with MIT business students who are being subsidised by MIT as part of their overall professional development.
The McKenzie friend concept was borne in the UK in 1970 in the divorce proceedings of ‘McKenzie vs McKenzie’. Due to financial constraints Mr McKenzie hired an Australian attorney unable to practise in London to assist him with his case who was only allowed to advise him at intermissions in the hearing. He lost the case but on retrial it was decided by the judiciary that he had a right to have a lay person help him, even if they were not legally trained, and won his case on appeal with the revised involvement of his McKenzie friend.
Vikash Prasad, a final year MIT Sales and Marketing student and course participant said of his involvement: “It was eye opening and empowering to realise that you can effectively defend yourself in legal proceedings, with knowledge of how our justice system operates. The challenging scenarios given to us during the course gave me a lot of self-confidence and honed my communications skills. You need to present the facts only to a judge or adjudicator clearly and concisely, and know your rights.”
“Knowledge is power and whether you are involved as a business or customer in a disputes tribunal matter, a custody issue in the family court or have an employment grievance at some point in time we all have an intervention with our justice system—a system which is foreign to the general public and for most shrouded in mystery” says Deobhakta.
Mele Lomu, a Pacific Island single mother in her final year of Bachelor of Applied Management specialising in Human Resources saw the course as a great opportunity, and encourages other Pacific Islanders to enrol. “It was heartening to learn that as well as self representing in court you could also call on Vinay and his team for someone to assist you in legal proceedings, at a lower price point, than a lawyer would charge” she said.
With the changes in recent years to our legal aid system those on lower incomes, especially, have been most impacted and denied justice. For them Deobhakta’s workshops offer a lifeline and will be available on a regular basis until February next year at the MIT campus.
Further information on McKenzie friend training is available at www.mfprofessionals.org.nz
Mr Deobhakta was a very successful senior lawyer until he was controversially struck off the roll of solicitors in 2009. He has always strongly maintained he disagreed with the decision to strike him off but decided not to seek reinstatement so he can practice law again. “I’m more interested in helping others through this training now. I came up with the idea of tailor made training when I went through my own litigation with the law society. I realised that if you can’t afford a lawyer or have to do it yourself, and you are up against a party with plenty of resources, it’s pretty tough and even tougher to win whether you’re innocent or not.”