THE COURTS must only be used in the last resort if a looming crisis in the judicial system is to be averted, says Lord Alexander of Weedon QC.
Speaking at a Council of Legal Education lecture in Gray's Inn, the chair of NatWest Group and a former Bar Council chairman, said alternative dispute resolution (ADR) was the key to securing access to justice for everybody.
He said the current system had become cumbersome and expensive. "The position has degenerated from one of chronic malaise to near-crisis."
Judges should become more interventionist, helping to focus cases to make them less adversarial, he said.
But Lord Alexander told last week's lecture, sponsored by Child & Co, that a more fundamental change was required which would see ADR coming to the fore.
He said judges should preside over preliminary assessment meetings to encourage the use of ADR if it was appropriate.
"We should also consider strongly whether parties should be required to try suitable alternative procedures before resorting to litigation. This approach appears to have been a potent force for impelling change elsewhere."
Lord Alexander suggested that the Legal Aid Board could even prioritise schemes for resolving differences without trial.