Croydon Crown Court will be “ineffectively inoperable” this morning, the man leading a nationwide walk-out by barristers over legal aid cuts has predicted.
Criminal Bar Association chair Nigel Lithman said the "strike" had the backing of almost every chambers and said he expected "solid support" for the unprecedented action.
He accused Justice Secretary Chris Grayling of "manipulating" official figures to falsely portray lawyers doing criminal aid work as high-earning "fat cats".
The Government plans to cut fees as part of a bid to slash £220m from the legal aid budget by 2018/19 - slashing them by as much as 30 per cent in the longest and most complex cases.
The Ministry of Justice says it is vital to scale back the most expensive such scheme in the world and insists it will remain "very generous" even after the changes.
It criticised the action and highlighted figures showing 1,200 barristers judged to be working full time on taxpayer-funded criminal work received £100,000 each in fee income last year.
Six barristers picked up more than £500,000 each, it said.
But Mr Lithman says the same official statistics showed - after allowing for VAT and other expenses - the average barrister involved in the work earned around £36,000.
The Bar Council calculated it was lower still - around the £27,000 national average, he said, meaning the cuts would push people away from the vital work.
"There are simply going to be no people of any ability prepared to do criminal legal aid work," he said.
Protests are planned outside court buildings but Mr Lithman says those taking part in the action had made efforts to ensure there was "as little disruption as is proportionate" to cases.
"Every head of chambers in the country said their barristers supported this and wanted to take part," he said.
"Courts in England and Wales will be effectively inoperable in the morning because of the size of this protest. There is solid support."
"The protest is the first in the history of the criminal bar."
But Croydon Crown Court spokesman Geoff Turner says it is too early to say whether the courts will be adversely affected.
He said: “Courts do not start until about 10:30am.
“We won’t know until courts start and they’re under no obligation to phone us and let us know [if they are walking out].”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "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."
Are you a barrister taking part in the walk out and based in the Croydon area? Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8722 6353.
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