As the criminal bar prepares to escalate its action in protest against the government's legal aid reforms, the president of the family division has stepped in to the row, warning barristers to be careful. Addressing the Family Law Bar Association Conference, Munby acknowledged that the bar 'is facing enormous and daunting challenges'. The criminal bar, he said, 'is facing a great crisis' and the family bar is facing difficulties 'perhaps almost as great'.

However, he said judges and barristers are 'temporary custodians' of common law and bar traditions 'received on a trust conferred on us by generations long gone and held by us for the benefit of generations as yet unborn and for centuries to come'.

Munby, who retires this year, continued: 'I know that there are siren voices, acting in good faith and in the conscientious belief that they are doing right, urging various actions to meet the current crisis. But we must take the long view. We must be careful that we navigate the storm without ending up shipwrecked on the rocks'.

The CBA has advised its 4,000 members to adopt a 'no returns' policy on all cases from Friday 25 May. Under no returns, barristers agree not to accept cases returned by colleagues who have a diary clash. So far barristers have been declining to act in Crown court matters where the representation order was granted on or after 1 April - the date when the reformed advocates' graduated fee scheme came into force.

Angela Rafferty QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, says barristers should be 'ready and willing' to represent, pro bono, solicitors and their employees who find themselves in situations where they are blamed and bullied because of the disruption. Last week the South Wales Argus reported that a judge criticised a law firm for failing to send a qualified lawyer to represent a client who was due to be sentenced for assault. The judge reportedly revoked the firm's legal aid certificate in the case.