A HISTORIC strike in protest at planned cuts to legal aid was supported by every defence barrister at Bournemouth Crown Court on Monday.

The action, which took place across half a day, is the first of its kind in the UK.

However, both the crown and magistrates’ courts in the town opened as preliminary hearings continued to go ahead, while trials were rescheduled for the afternoon.

British trial lawyers across the country participated in the strike to object to government cuts of up to 30 per cent to legal fees.

Self-employed barrister Nick Robinson said: “Today is a momentous day.

“Barristers and solicitors across England and Wales who care about justice are refusing to attend court for the first time in history.”

Nigel Lithman, chair of the Criminal Bar Association which organised the protest, said it was the first time barristers had withdrawn their labour in the history of a profession dating back to the 15th century.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 proposed reforms, which are due to come into force for trials starting from April onwards, would reduce the legal aid budget to an annual £1.5 billion.

The cuts are just one element of a broad government cost-cutting programme aimed at reducing Britain’s budget deficit.

Mr Robinson said: “Legal aid provision is, like the NHS, part of the welfare state.

“Years ago, people who knew the value of justice in our society designed a system which, like our NHS, meant that if you needed it, the state would provide the best available help at a reasonable cost to the tax-payer.”

He said the public perception of “fat cat lawyers” is mostly a myth.

“There are some who earn very high wages, that can’t be denied,” he said.

“However, most earn much less than people believe, and after overheads and taxes are taken away, the average wage is actually £22,400.”

And more strikes could be on the way.

“If these proposals go through, I could be forced to change a career I chose because I wanted to be part of a system of justice that is the envy of the world,” he said.

“If we are not listened to, there will be more strikes.”