The criminal justice system will face widespread disruption next month as Midland barristers look certain to refuse to take on new work in protest against pay cuts.

The threat of chaos was increased on Monday when the Law Society announced that solicitors would be entitled to refuse to step into trials to replace barristers.

The action is likely to paralyse the region's judicial system as hundreds of child sex abuse, rape and robbery cases are stalled.

Up to 570 Midland barristers will refuse to take on new work from October 3 in protest against the cuts, which will see barristers have their hourly rates cut for defending in some legal aid cases.

Tim Green, who represents barristers on the Midland circuit's junior bar, claimed junior barristers could earn as little as £46.50 a day when the new rates come in. He said Midland barristers were certain to strike, after pleas to the Government to postpone the decision until after Lord Carter's review of publicly funded legal work reports early next year.

He said: "That would diffuse all this. We are not demanding an increase in rates, we are just asking the Government to defer its decision until the report by Lord Carter in the new year.

" It would cost about £800,000, which is nothing when the Department of Constitutional Affairs has a budget of £2billion."

He said the fees for "cracked trials"- which are dropped at the last minute because a witness doesn't turn up, a compromise is reached, or a defendant decides to plead guilty, - would be particularly affected. He said rates for these cases would be slashed by up to 45 per cent.

He said: "The rates were fixed in 1997 and have not been increased since that date. In fact, there has already been about a 30 per cent reduction through inflation. It's that which has really caused the current crisis.

" The Government was warned back in the summer that ordinary barristers were at the end of their tether. They feel the Government has complete disregard for them because they are being asked to do more work at the same time as fees are being reduced."

At a meeting of 180 barristers on Thursday, all but one agreed to take direct action.

He said: "There wasn't any formal test of opinion by way of a show of hands but everybody was given a long opportunity to express themselves. There was only one person who said that the new fee arrangement for junior barristers was acceptable.

"What has come out as the main cause of anger is not the reduction of QCs fees but the combined effect of no increase in fees for so long, and the reduction for one to ten day cases."

He said many barristers were reluctant to strike but had been driven to direct action by the Government's refusal to listen.

"Despite the fact that this is a very conservative profession, people are just not willing to put up with this any more. People at the bar Council have been talking to the Government to try and reach an agreement but it doesn't look like that's going to happen now. But barristers are mindful that once we have taken a case on we are stuck with it. We will definitely not be abandoning cases."

Barristers will now meet in their chambers to discuss what form of action they are going to take before a final meeting next week.