Courts close across England and Wales as lawyers protest at legal aid cuts

Crown and magistrates courts across England and Wales were emptied of lawyers on Monday morning as criminal barristers and solicitors walked out in protest over government plans to cut legal aid.

The unprecedented action led to all but one of the 18 courts at the Old Bailey in central London being deserted or locked as hearings were postponed or cancelled.

Barristers, in their wigs and gowns, and solicitors waved placards opposing the cuts as they gathered outside the entrances to courts in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Preston, Birmingham, Newcastle, Winchester, Bristol and Cardiff.

The Ministry of Justice claimed there had only been minimal disruption, but many judges and court clerks, anticipating the boycott, had rescheduled cases until 2pm when lawyers returned to work.

The half-day demonstration, the first time barristers have taken such action in legal history, was aimed at forcing the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, into a last-minute rethink of proposals designed to save £220m a year from the criminal legal aid budget.

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