Public prefers ADR, poll reveals

THE LEGAL profession has been urged to take note of a “resounding rejection” of court trials in an opinion poll on civil justice.

The National Consumer Council has highlighted the “marked lack of enthusiasm for a full trial” displayed by the respondents to a civil justice survey it commissioned jointly with the BBC's Law in Action programme.

The initial findings of the random survey of 8,358 people were broadcast by the BBC in the spring.

An in-depth analysis of the findings has just been published by the National Consumer Council.

The report noted that less than one in 10 of the sample of 1,019 respondents who had recently been involved in a serious civil dispute said a full court trial would have been the preferable way of resolving it.

Three quarters said they would have preferred some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

The report said the findings contradicted “the received wisdom that people 'want their day in court'”.

“What many [individuals] seem to want is a chance to be listened to, but in a much less formal setting,” it said.

The report also noted a lack of confidence in the civil justice system – especially among middle-income householders who did not qualify for legal aid.

It said this highlighted the frustration of moderate earners who wanted legal help but did not qualify for full legal aid.

Suzanne Burn, secretary of the Law Society's civil litigation committee, said the findings emphasised the need for legal aid eligibility rates to be raised. But she was cautious about the findings on alternative dispute resolution.

“People are opting for something they don't know about. Mediation and arbitration are relatively new. We have little or no experience of it. It's easier to opt for something that sounds attractive, but we don't know a lot about.”

Legal Action Group director Roger Smith welcomed the survey but said it had to be treated with caution as a very small sample was involved.