The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, has warned that the justice system must adapt to make sure people can access it without lawyers.

In a speech to the Legal Research Foundation in New Zealand Thomas said that the “often prohibitive” cost of lawyers, legal aid cuts and court charges were “putting access to justice out of the reach of most” and “imperilling a core principle of Magna Carta”.

There is, he said, “a risk that access to justice is not being provided”.

He said: “It is important to remind lawyers at times that the justice system is not there for them (although they unquestionably play an important part) but for the public.

“The justice system therefore needs to adapt to make sure that people can still access it without lawyers by a process designed to work without lawyers.”

Touching on measures being considered in England and Wales to increase efficiency, including online dispute resolution, he said “justice must be made available through the most effective means”.

He said: “It is therefore necessary to re-cast our justice system to equip it for the present, and to future-proof it so far as possible.”

Thomas continued: “Stabilising its financing, making effective use of its buildings, allocating work appropriately, and exploiting the advantages that technology and digitisation can bring are the only way to do this.

“To do this will be to ensure access to justice in the 21st century and to safeguard one of the principal legacies of Magna Carta for now and for the future.”