06/01/2014 03:08 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 08:17 GMT

Lawyers Stage Historic Mass Walkout Over Drastic Legal Aid Cuts

Lawyers, ever careful with their language, are definitely not calling this a strike.

But criminal courts across England and Wales face severe disruption on Monday, with barristers and solicitors staging a mass walkout and protests across the country, for the first time in history, aimed to force a government rethink of plans to slash legal aid fees.

Nigel Lithman QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said those involving vulnerable people, including rape cases, would not be affected by the walkout.

An earlier protest about legal aid cuts held by UK Uncut

"That it is necessary in order to try and prevent the slide of the Criminal Justice system into chaos and the Criminal Bar into oblivion make it a sad day," he said in a statement.

"We need a Lord Chancellor who protects the courts, not one who plays politics with them."

The Ministry of Justice figures suggest criminal barristers have a median fee income of £56,000, according to the Guardian.

Lithman told the paper that some junior barristers are earning as little as £13,000 a year, and many earning less than £25,000 a year. Experienced and skilled lawyers are deserting the criminal bar in droves, he said, in favour of more lucrative areas of law.

Fees for lawyers could now be cut by 30%, saving the public purse £220m a year. Legal Aid has been cut by up to 40% by successive measures since 1997.

It is not a strike, lawyers say. Probably because that would cause problems with contracts to the Legal Aid Agency.

The action is, however, supported by Amnesty UK, Liberty, the Howard League for Penal Reform and trade unions, to name a few. Lawyers say that the reforms will leads to miscarriages of justices, with overburden lawyers incentivised to get their clients to plead guilty quickly, and thus take on more cases.

One of the demonstrations outside Westminster magistrates court in London will be addressed by Janis Sharp, the mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon who fought extradition to the US.

An MoJ spokesperson said in a statement: "At around £2bn a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, and it would remain very generous even after reform.

"Latest figures show more than 1,200 barristers judged to be working full-time on taxpayer-funded criminal work received £100,000 each in fee income last year, with six barristers receiving more than £500,000 each.

"We entirely agree lawyers should be paid fairly for their work, and believe our proposals do just that. We also agree legal aid is a vital part of our justice system – that's why we have to find efficiencies to ensure it remains sustainable and available to those most in need of a lawyer.

"Agencies involved in the criminal justice system will take steps to minimise any upset court disruption could cause for victims and witnesses involved in trials."

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said: “No-one wants to see disruption in our courts but this unprecedented action shows how relations between the legal profession and David Cameron’s government have collapsed as a result of policies which could restrict access to our courts to only those who can afford it.”