Monday, 25 June, 2018

Foreign law firms not allowed to practice in India

In January the centre told the Supreme Court that the Bar Council of India should consider framing rules to open up the legal sector to foreign lawyers and law firms failing which it would step in to assist in the process Breaking: Can legislators practice law? Supreme Court notice to BCI
Sammy Stanley | 14 March, 2018, 06:44

The court, which upheld a Madras High Court verdict passed in 2012, however allowed foreign lawyers to visit India on a "fly in and fly out" basis to provide clients legal advice on matters related to foreign law.

"These are parts of non-litigation practice which is part of practice of law" and the Advocates Act makes it clear that those enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law as regulatory mechanism for conduct of advocates also applies to non-litigation work", the court held in a 52-page judgment.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms can not open offices in India or practice in Indian courts, Live Law reported.

The Supreme Court made certain modifications to the high court judgements, making allowances for foreign law firms to offer legal advice on foreign laws, but only on a temporary "fly in and fly out" basis. However, the Bombay High Court in Lawyers' Collective had held that foreign law firms could not open liaison offices in India.

The only exception that is available is for foreign lawyers coming to India for providing advice on foreign law or when they are coming in to take part in an global commercial arbitration.

"Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly-in-and-fly-out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis".

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However, it has permitted foreign la firms to participate in arbitration proceedings.

The court said: "If the Rules of Institutional Arbitration apply or the matter is covered by the provisions of the Arbitration Act, foreign lawyers may not be debarred from conducting arbitration proceedings arising out of worldwide commercial arbitration in view of Sections 32 and 33 of the Advocates Act".

The ruling came from a bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit which heard a batch of appeals against orders of the Bombay and Madras High Courts.

The apex court also said BCI has the powers to frame rules and regulate the conduct of foreign lawyers and that rules may be framed keeping these directions in mind. The foreign firms denied the allegations.

It also ruled that BPO companies working on legal services can operate in India as they don't have to operate under the ambit of the Advocates Act.

Ajay Shaw, partner, DSK Legal, said: "This judgment will not have any bearing on Indian law firms at this stage".

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