Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has appealed to Lord Rennard to end the turmoil gripping the party and apologise to the women who alleged he sexually harassed them.
Lord Ashdown, who described himself as a "friend and admirer" of the former Lib Dem chief executive, said it would "cost him nothing" to say sorry for any offence his conduct had caused.
There was little sign however that Lord Rennard would heed his advice after his spokesman warned last night that he was considering legal action following his suspension by the party over his refusal to issue an apology.
With one of the women whom he is alleged to have harassed refusing to rule out a counter claim against the peer, the Lib Dems are faced with the prospect of becoming embroiled in a series of damaging court battles which could drag on for months.
Lord Rennard was ordered to apologise by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg after an inquiry by Alistair Webster QC found the claims against him, made by four women activists, were credible - although there was insufficient evidence to bring disciplinary charges.
The peer - who has strongly maintained his innocence throughout - refused, in part because of warnings that to do so could leave him "defenceless" in the event of a civil action against him.
Lord Ashdown, however, insisted that he could apologise for any offence he may have given without compromising his legal position.
"It is very easy to do. No one is suggesting that Chris (Lord Rennard) should put his own innocence, as he claims it, in jeopardy," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.
"If it is the case - this is what Webster QC asserted - that offence has been given, it costs him nothing to say 'If inadvertently I have caused you hurt, I apologise for that'. It's done every day. It is the very heart of mediation."
The row over Lord Rennard's treatment has opened up bitter divisions within the party with his supporters claiming he has been subjected to a kangaroo court while critics have argued that swifter, tougher action should have been taken against him.
Lord Ashdown acknowledged that it had not been the Lib Dems' "finest hour" but he strongly defended Mr Clegg's handing of the case, saying there was no other course of action open to him.
"In the end, the issue that Nick has stood on with great courage and in the face of great flak from the press and indeed some in the party too, is an important issue, an important principle, and he is right to do so," he told BBC News.