Senior barristers claim they have been "kicked in the teeth" by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), after 11 London sets were axed from the CPS list of "preferred sets" without warning last week.
Under the preferred set system, introduced three years ago, 80 per cent of prosecutions in London are guaranteed to selected sets, with other sets left to fight for the remaining 20 per cent.
The number of preferred sets has gradually fallen, but following a review the CPS decided on a drastic cull, from 38 to 27 sets, because of a decrease in the number of prosecutions in London.
A CPS spokeswoman said: "It was established that while all sets had performed to an acceptable standard, some had performed better than others."
She refused to disclose the names of the axed sets - but The Lawyer has obtained a copy of the new list of preferred chambers.
Among those axed are 50-tenant Dr Johnson's Chambers and 45-tenant One Gray's Inn Square.
Many sets complained that there had been no consultation, no justification given for the decision and no appeals process. One senior barrister said: "It doesn't seem to matter what we do to comply to their requirements. We're just sacrificial lambs.
"All my work has been prosecutions for 15 years. For my loyalty, I receive a kick in the teeth."
But two of the sets - 2 Gray's Inn Square and 3 Serjeant's Inn - said that they had asked to be taken off the list.
The cull could lead to a major shake-up in the criminal bar, with around 300 extra barristers competing for the 20 per cent of prosecutions reserved for sets not on the list.
One victim said: "Either I have to give up the Bar, look to move to a preferred set, or join the CPS."
11 Bolt Court
4 Brick Court (David Medhurst)
2 Mitre Court Buildings (Roger Gray)
3 Serjeant's Inn
Britton Street Chambers
Dr Johnson's Chambers
2 Gray's Inn Square
1 Gray's Inn Square (Carl Teper)
55 Temple Chambers
3 Temple Gardens (Dermot Wright)
- The heads of chambers are listed for sets which share their name with another