Solicitor-advocates will have to take up the slack if the likely strike action by members of the criminal bar takes place this autumn.
Sources report that solicitor-advocates have been asked by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to act as counsel should barristers carry out their threat to strike from 1 October following the Government's refusal to raise criminal legal aid funding.
The crisis has already claimed one day of court action. The Northern Circuit will close on 16 September as barristers in Manchester and Liverpool meet to decide on strike action.
Alastair Webster QC of Lincoln House Chambers in Manchester is chairing the Northern Circuit's emergency meeting. He will report to members on the issues, although the circuit - like the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) - cannot recommend or coordinate any action.
Webster added: "There's a depth of anger that I've never seen before in the bar."
Action in the North West will be replicated nationwide. There is massive support for a strike among barristers across England and Wales, with many practitioners believing this is the only option left after years of continued cuts in fees.
Despite continued attempts by the Bar Council and the CBA to persuade the Government to raise legal aid fees, a cut in rates for graduated fee scheme cases is still due on 1 October. Existing rates have not been raised since 1997, when they were calculated according to 1995 figures.
The Department for Constitutional Affairs said the amount spent on legal aid had risen from £1.5bn in 1997 to £2.1bn this year. A spokesperson added that the department was "making contingency plans" in the event of a strike. The LSC declined to comment.