Scotland's prosecutors are on the verge of strike action, prompting fears over the recovery of the justice system following the coronavirus crisis.

The FDA trade union will on Tuesday launch a ballot for industrial action over a long-running pay dispute which centres on Crown Office lawyers being paid less than their counterparts in the Scottish Government.

The union believes the indicative ballot will see its members vote in favour of the action, with around 500 procurator fiscals potentially walking out early next year.

It comes at a time when the country’s court system is already in crisis following the shutdown of courts during lockdown. Experts estimate there is a backlog of 40,000 cases which could take a decade to clear.

Meanwhile, scores of defence solicitors have also taken industrial action this week over legal aid rates, with further protests expected in the coming weeks.

Opposition politicians have called on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to resolve the disputes - described as a “double blow” to the justice system - and save victims from facing even longer delays.

Allan Sampson, FDA Scotland national organiser, said: “This is a long running dispute about pay in COPFS, which has fallen significantly behind other government departments.

“A lawyer starting with the Crown Office will be on £15,000 less than a lawyer starting on Scottish Government main. It’s been an issue for over a decade.

“We’ve been telling Scottish ministers about this issue over pay parity for years. There’s been some sympathetic words, but nothing has been done to address it and patience is now running out. 

“We were told at the start of November that they wouldn’t meet our request and that’s what has led us to this point.

“We’re asking our members if they would be willing to take strike action, and we expect they will say yes to that.

“If they do, we will move to a statutory ballot early in the New Year.”

He added that he was still hopeful that an agreement can be reached with the Scottish Government.

Read more: Lawyers left ‘disappointed’ after legal aid rise rejected

Scottish Labour said the court system can “ill afford” to lose lawyers to strike action “at this crucial time”.

Party justice spokesperson Rhoda Grants said: “It is unfortunate that the pay dispute has reached this stage. The Scottish justice system and its lawyers have been under immense strain in the past months, with the court case backlog increasing week on week. 

“In a week where Scottish Ministers rejected a proposal from the Law Society for grant to help legal firms hit by court closures, this is potentially a double blow to our strained justice system. 

“We urge the Scottish Government to work together with the FDA Union to find a solution urgently."

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr added: "The SNP is now presiding over a situation where lawyers are furious and feel undervalued, and victims are at risk of having justice further delayed.

 “Ministers need to get round the table with the COPFS and sort this out now.”

A spokesman for COPFS said: "COPFS has an ongoing and constructive dialogue with unions and staff over pay and benefits, informed by the available budget."

The Herald has asked the Scottish Government for comment.