LONDON - British trial lawyers staged their first ever strike on Monday to protest against government cuts of up to 30 per cent to legal fees which they said would drive away talent from the profession and endanger the criminal justice system.
Trials across England and Wales were severely disrupted as hundreds of barristers in grey wigs, white bow ties and long black gowns, the attire they normally wear in court, joined noisy demonstrations outside the courthouses instead.
Nigel Lithman, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association which organised the half-day protest, said it was the first time barristers had withdrawn their labour in the history of a profession dating back to the 15th century.
"The very future of our criminal justice system is in jeopardy by the imposition of savage cuts to funding," Lithman told a crowd of about 100 protesters outside London's Southwark Crown Court.
Some of the bewigged protesters held up placards with slogans such as "Save British Justice" and "No Legal Aid Cuts".
Inside the building, most courtrooms were empty. It was a similar picture across the river Thames at the Old Bailey, the country's most famous criminal court, where the courtroom hosting a high-profile trial centred on phone-hacking by journalists was deserted.
The government argues that its proposed cuts to legal aid, whereby the state pays the legal fees of those unable to afford lawyers themselves, are reasonable and will ensure that the system remains financially sustainable.
"At around 2 billion pounds (S$4.1 billion) a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and it would remain very generous even after reform," the Ministry of Justice said in a statement.