Barristers walked out in a dispute over the fees they are paid for working Legal Aid cases, which they say has seen hundreds of junior barristers quit and made it impossible to recruit.
Last year, the lack of barristers meant 567 criminal trials, including 60 sexual offence cases, were unable to go ahead.
At the picket line, barrister Lucie Wibberley told the crowd: “Lady Justice has no voice, today we lend her ours – on behalf of the victims, witnesses and defendants who through our courts.
“We speak out, not because we want to, but because we have to. Without a criminal justice system, there is no rule of law. If we can’t recruit, the rule of law will die.”
Fellow barrister Alejandra Llorente Tascon added that the profession is “bleeding juniors left and right” because barristers “can’t survive on below minimum wage”.
She said: “Many, like me, are in hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of debt because of the education we invested in to get into this profession.”
While lawyers who work in areas like private corporate law can expect to earn £100,000 a year from very early in their careers, the rules around Legal Aid set a limit on what fees lawyers in criminal cases can be paid.
Barristers say that, when the time they spend preparing cases outside of court is factored in, their hourly earnings are below the minimum wage.
Standing in solidarity with her barrister colleagues, solicitor Kerry Hudson told the crowd: “Often we make a loss on the work that we do. We are here putting our blood, sweat and tears into this job because we care about it. If we didn’t, we would all quit.
“Legal Aid has survived… on our good will and that’s running out. We are holding it together on a wing and a prayer and a bit of sticky tape but we are tired and exhausted.
“When I first started, 100 people would apply to be a solicitor, now we have to beg people to join. Why would they want to get woken up in the middle of the night to go to a police station for less than minimum wage?
“We are not asking to be millionaires, all we are asking for is fair pay for what we do. If you are unlucky enough to be charged with a crime, the people behind me are there to make sure you get a fair trial.”
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab previously said strikes would “only delay justice for victims” with courts already facing a backlog of 58,271 cases.
He urged barristers “to agree the proposed 15% pay rise which would see a typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year” but which would not come into effect until the end of 2023.
The strikes are planned over four weeks. Lawyers will strike today and tomorrow, three days next week, four days the week after and finally for the entire week beginning 18th July.
Barristers are rallying today at a number of the country’s most high profile courts, as well as the Old Bailey, including Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol Crown Courts.
The strike means that the start of the murder trial following the death of Chingford dad James Markham is delayed to an unknown date.