The 'litigation model' of public inquiries should be reformed to embrace alternative methods of dialogue and decision-making, according to a report published by the chief executive of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR).
The report's author, CEDR chief executive Karl Mackie, said that public inquiries have become 'increasingly prevalent' as governments seek to address calamities of various kinds.
He said inquiries' ad hoc nature sustained a model that was 'admirably simple in concept' but costly and lengthy and 'often promises more than it delivers'.
A study commissioned by CEDR last year showed that only 27% of the 2,000 people polled had confidence in the inquiry system and 58% believed inquiries were too costly.
'It is now time for a rethink and reform, including pilots of alternative approaches,' said Mackie.
Among 11 recommendations, Mackie suggests a move away from the 'litigation model' to facilitate greater dialogue between parties using mediation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution techniques.
Some recent inquiries, he said, had adopted the 'ambience of a mock trial' that could trigger 'habitual mindsets' amongst lawyers attending, and the chairman.
Judges who frequently chair public inquiries should be given increased training, and the process should be split into two distinct phases - the first to investigate and the second to make recommendations.