MORE than a dozen defence solicitors boycotted Barnsley Magistrates' Court on Wednesday in a protest about changes to legal aid it is feared will 'decimate' the criminal justice system.

It is feared the proposals, which introduce competitive tendering for legal aid work, will leave only eight law firms in South Yorkshire to do legal aid cases. At the moment, there are about seven firms in Barnsley alone.

A spokesman for the solicitors in the protest said someone arrested in Barnsley would be allocated a solicitor he or she had never met and who knew nothing about Barnsley.

"Barristers and solicitors are united - the proposals will decimate the criminal justice systems.

"Protests are growing daily as people realise what the consequences of the changes will be."

At Barnsley Magistrates' Court, straightforward cases, featuring a duty defence solicitor, and at least one bail application where a lawyer had become involved with someone locked up the previous evening, went ahead on the day of the protest.

A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said it had been 'business as usual' at Barnsley Magistrates' Court.

"There was no reported disruption to the day-to-day business at the court," he said.

The plans by the Lord Chancellor to cut £220m off the legal aid bill will mean state-sponsored solicitors representing people facing criminal charges.

The proposals have led to warnings there will be miscarriages of justice and that the number of law firms in England and Wales will drop from 1,600 to 400.