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Wig-wearing British lawyers swap courtrooms for street protest over legal aid cuts

  • Barrister Juliet Donovan in her full court dress of wig and gown, chants slogans during a rally to protest against legal aid cuts, across from the Houses of Parliament in central London, Friday, March 7, 2014. The protest coincides with a nationwide demonstration of non-attendance of lawyers which will affect hundreds of cases across the country. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Barrister Juliet Donovan in her full court dress of wig and gown, chants slogans during a rally to protest against legal aid cuts, across from the Houses of Parliament in central London, Friday, March 7, 2014. The protest coincides with a nationwide demonstration of non-attendance of lawyers which will affect hundreds of cases across the country. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)  (The Associated Press)

  • A lawyer in his full court dress of wig and gown, participates in a rally to protest against legal aid cuts, across from the Houses of Parliament in central London, Friday, March 7, 2014. The protest coincides with a nationwide demonstration of non-attendance of lawyers which will affect hundreds of cases across the country. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    A lawyer in his full court dress of wig and gown, participates in a rally to protest against legal aid cuts, across from the Houses of Parliament in central London, Friday, March 7, 2014. The protest coincides with a nationwide demonstration of non-attendance of lawyers which will affect hundreds of cases across the country. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)  (The Associated Press)

  • Lawyers, one dressed as Justice, left, and one carrying a puppet depicting Chris Grayling, Britain's Justice Secretary march to protest against legal aid cuts, across from the Houses of Parliament in central London, Friday, March 7, 2014. The protest coincides with a nationwide demonstration of non-attendance of lawyers which will affect hundreds of cases across the country. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Lawyers, one dressed as Justice, left, and one carrying a puppet depicting Chris Grayling, Britain's Justice Secretary march to protest against legal aid cuts, across from the Houses of Parliament in central London, Friday, March 7, 2014. The protest coincides with a nationwide demonstration of non-attendance of lawyers which will affect hundreds of cases across the country. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)  (The Associated Press)

Thousands of British lawyers have stayed away from court to protest legal aid cuts that they fear will devastate the country's respected justice system.

Dozens of court hearings were canceled across the country Friday, and hundreds of lawyers in black robes and white wigs marched on Parliament.

The government, which has slashed billions from public spending in the name of deficit reduction, plans to cut lawyers' fees to reduce the legal aid budget by 220 million pounds ($360 million) a year through 2019.

Lawyers say the cuts will discourage attorneys from taking criminal cases, in which defendants often rely on state funding for legal representation.

Nigel Lithman, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said the cuts would mean the British justice system "will cease to exist as we know it."