Thousands of court workers across England and Wales today walked out on strike as the union began a three-month programme of action.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union took industrial action to mark budget day after talks broke down over cuts to pay, pensions, and terms and conditions.

Pickets were staged outside courts across the country, including the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said disruption was kept ‘to a minimum’ as a skeleton staff ensured courts were open.

He added: ‘HMCTS provides essential services to the public and our top priority is to ensure public safety. We have robust contingency plans in place that will prioritise the delivery of our most essential services. These include custody cases and urgent family cases.’

The PCS union said a number of trials had been delayed or adjourned because of a lack of available staff.

A spokesman also confirmed members will hold a half-day walkout on 5 April to mark the end of the tax year.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We will quickly follow up our budget day strike with a walkout on 5 April and step up our campaigning for the government to take serious action against wealthy tax dodgers.

‘With polls showing people are less likely to support government policies if George Osborne's name is attached, it is clear the public have lost faith in austerity and want an alternative.’

The union says ministers are being urged by the Treasury to scrap decades-old civil service pay arrangements that allow staff to progress from minimum starting levels up a series of pay bands within their grade.

Ministers played down the disruption. The minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said that the PCS leadership had 'failed to carry large swathes of their own membership with them'.

Government figures showed that 93,951 civil servants went on strike, he said, '­far fewer than the 250,000 claimed by PCS this morning, and significantly lower than during other recent strikes'.