CASES went ahead at York Crown Court today without lawyers representing defendants as barristers began a series of national walk-outs.
Many of the barristers who often appear at the York court attended a rally and picket outside Leeds Crown Court instead.
They heard Caroline Goodwin, QC, head of Trinity Chambers in Leeds, say that legal aid fees in criminal law cases are so low that the number of barristers specialising in criminal law has dropped by a quarter in the last five years.
She said they were "driven out of the job that they have loved because they simply cannot afford to stay."
She warned that the lack of barristers generally would lead to more court delays and victims and defendants waiting "years and years" for justice.
The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu QC, told the Press Association in London: "On average, within the first three years of their practice, a junior criminal barrister can expect to earn no more than £12,200 as a median income - that is below minimum wage.
"Many of them will be doing cases for which they will be paid, for a day's work, no more than £100.
"That means they are working sometimes, six, eight, 10 hours of preparation, going to court, paying for their own train fare to get there and back, and when they arrive home of an evening, they will have less money in their pocket than when they left."
The Government has said it is offering a 15 per cent increase in legal fees.
At York, two defendants spoke to their barristers via the internet before their hearings at York Crown Court to decide what to do.
When their cases were called on and no defence lawyer appeared, Deputy Circuit Judge Tim Clayson asked each defendant if he was happy to proceed in his barrister's absence.
Each said yes, pleaded guilty to the charges he faced and asked for the cases to be adjourned while probation officers prepared pre-sentence reports.
The judge agreed in each case and adjourned it to a date when the barrister can attend.
As well as not appearing in court, barristers are refusing to take on new cases, so the number of hearings without prosecution and defence representation is expected to increase as the dispute continues.
The Bar Council, the barrister's professional body, has given its members guidance of how to act in cases in which they are already instructed.
As a result, several cases before York Crown Court today had barristers appearing for both prosecution and defence.
Two defendants were represented by local solicitor advocates who, as members of the Law Society, are not part of the national walk out.
Barristers will walk out again tomorrow, a three-day walk-out is planned for next week and longer ones in future weeks.