Criminal barristers in the Midlands could bring the region's judicial system to a halt this year by refusing to appear in court in protest over their earnings.
The approximately 1,200 criminal barristers who work on the Midland Circuit are furious that hourly rates for defending in legal aid cases have not risen since 1997.
Some predict that 80 per cent of the circuit would boycott publicly-funded cases for two weeks unless the Government "significantly" increases their fees and brings them into line with inflation.
This would mean child sex abuse cases, rapes, burglaries and robberies at crown courts in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stafford and Coventry would be stalled.
Current hourly rates for defending in legal aid cases are £33.50 for a junior criminal barrister, £47 for a more experienced junior, and £62.50 for a QC.
Gerry Bermingham, who works as a criminal barrister in Birmingham city centre, said: "My impression is that anger is a mild word to describe the feelings of criminal barristers on the Midland Circuit at the moment.
"We believe the time has come to get legal aid rates sorted. It is fundamental to the future of the junior Bar.
" They cannot support themselves or their families on their earnings. There may be days when they would just earn £46.50 in one day and in some cases they would have to pay their own travel expenses as well.
"We have a situation where the younger end of the Bar is being forced out of the profession. And this is to society's detriment because the criminal Bar is there to help the judiciary and to ease the passage of cases through the courts."
Mr Bermingham, who used to be a Labour MP in the North-west and has worked as a barrister for 20 years, said he would join colleagues by going on 'holiday' if nothing was done.
Other Midland barristers said they believed the public was unsympathetic to their plight because the highestpaid in their profession can gross more than £500,000 on a single case, such as a complex fraud.
They argue that junior criminal barristers start on £20,000 and often have loans from their student days which exceed £10,000.
They also claim that recent legislation on allowing hearsay and evidence of previous convictions has forced them to do extra unpaid work.
The action would be the first collective show of dissatisfaction by the profession in the UK and would be replicated across the country.
The Criminal Bar Association has found 75 per cent of its 1,024 members are "angry" or "very angry" at a decade of pay cuts.
David Spens QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: "The criminal Bar is saying enough is enough.
"We have been taken for granted by governments, who have exploited misinformation about the legal aid system to drive down fees to the point at which members are often asked to work for free.
"Public service lawyers perform important functions. Those who prosecute do so on behalf of the Crown and the public. They speak for the victims of crime and ensure, where the facts and the law permit, that redress can be achieved and justice is done."