ANGRY lawyers opposed to legal aid cuts brought courts to a virtual standstill - and warned of more disruption ahead.

Criminal barristers and solicitors refused to work today (Friday, March 7) which resulted in just a handful of cases being heard.

Ahead of the action, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) described the planned cuts "crippling" and warned of job losses.

Loading article content

Opposition to the Government's proposals will escalate when lawyers refuse to accept 'returned briefs' for up to a month.

When a case takes longer than expected and a lawyer cannot do the next case they were due to, it is passed on to a colleague.

Accepting 'returns' is crucial to keeping court running smoothly, and refusing to do so is likely to have a significant impact.

Yesterday, a number of trials that were part-way through were put off until next week so jurors were not overly inconvenienced.

Dozens of other cases at every court - such as sentences and plea and case management hearings - were also cancelled.

The Government is pressing ahead with fee cuts for lawyers in an effort to save £220m from the £2bn annual cost of legal aid.

The controversial plan is to include cutting fees in complex, high-cost cases by 30 per cent, and in other work by up to 18 per cent.

The CBA's Nigel Lithman QC said: "If these cuts are not addressed, then the British justice system, which is held in such high esteem around the world, will cease to exist as we know it and the British public can no longer expect true justice to be delivered.

"The effect will be crippling. It means people of social diversity will not be able to come to the Bar, will not be able to go into criminal law."

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said England and Wales had "one of the most expensive" legal aid systems in the world.

"As everybody knows, this government is dealing with an unprecedented financial challenge and the MoJ has no choice but to significantly reduce the amount of money it spends every year," she added.

Outside of Teesside Crown Court, where more than 30 lawyers gathered, Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald met protestors.

He said Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was poised "to degrade the fundamental rights of each and every one of us”.

The Labor MP added: “Everyone knows if you are accused of a crime or subject to a civil action, you should always have the right to defend yourself.

"Those rights are now under serious threat . . . The impact will be felt in the criminal justice system that will cease to exist as we know it.

"It will be degraded with access to justice restricted for the most vulnerable and the public will no longer be able to expect justice to be done in our courts."