Preston Crown Court could soon grind to a halt due to a row over barristers' fees.

Barristers in the city and across the region are refusing to take any new crown court criminal cases until a pay dispute with the Government is resolved.

The action could start to hit the criminal justice system within weeks according to barrister Simon Newell, of 15 Winckley Square Chambers, Preston.

Contingency plans, such as drafting in barristers from other areas of the country not taking action, are being considered.

The row centres around pay for legally aided cases in crown courts, of one to ten days in length, which has not increased since 1997.

Mr Newell claims a promised pay review for May this year had been put back to January 2006 by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) headed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer.

The action was taken after the Government introduced cuts of ten to 15 per cent that came into force on Monday.

Mr Newell, a barrister for 30 years, said: "The cuts were the straw that broke the camel's back.

"The Bar is extremely annoyed and we have no confidence that even if the new report reviews in our favour it will be implemented."

As barristers are self-employed, refusing to take work is the nearest they can come to striking.

The refusal to work, which does not affect magistrates' or civil courts, could continue indefinitely until the dispute is solved.

A spokesman for the DCA said: "We think it is irresponsible for barristers to be taking this action, but we are working to mitigate any problems that might arise, although it is likely there will be delays in cases coming to court."