A Crown court judge has thrown out a £4.5m fraud trial after the defendants were left without advocates because of government legal aid cuts.
In a judgment that will be a shattering blow to justice secretary Chris Grayling, His Honour Judge Leonard refused to adjourn the case of R v Crawley and Others for defence advocates to materialise and instead stayed the proceedings.
Leonard said there was no realistic prospect that enough advocates would become available to take on the case.
Barristers have refused to take very high cost cases since the government cut fees for such cases by 30% last December.
Leonard said there was no reason to think the bar will start to accept VHCCs at the reduced rates and said that the Public Defender Service - which had been the Financial Conduct Authority's suggested remedy - is 'so small that it is insufficient' to cover the cases.
The prime minister's brother, Alex Cameron QC (pictured), acted for the defendants pro bono in the hearing, assisted by solicitor advocate Lee Adams, partner at London firm Hughmans.
The Crown had been represented by Ben Emmerson QC, Sean Larkin QC, Paul Raudnitz and Polly Dyer.
The decision to stay the case is only in relation to the five defendants in the present trail, dubbed Operation Cotton.
A second trial arising out of the same operation, and six other major fraud trials, are unaffected by the immediate ruling. They remain scheduled to go ahead, but face the same problem of unrepresented defendants due to the legal aid cuts, so may also be in jeopardy.
The prosecution can appeal the stay and were given until 3pm tomorrow to notify the defence and the court whether they will do so.
Commenting as he left court, Adams praised the judge and Cameron for their 'brave' decisions, the former for his judgment and the latter for taking the case pro bono.