Criminal courts across England and Wales will be “effectively inoperable” this morning, the man leading a walk-out by barristers over legal aid cuts 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 £220 million 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 said the same official statistics showed that - after allowing for VAT and other expenses - the average barrister involved in the work earned around £36,000.
The Bar Council calculated that 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.