Published: Wed, March 14, 2018
World | By Paul Elliott

Supreme Court bars foreign firms from practicing law in India

Supreme Court bars foreign firms from practicing law in India

"We hold that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".

In his submission, senior counsel Rajiv Dutta, who represented the Bar Council along with senior lawyer CU Singh, had cited a judgment in an American case that ruled it was illegal for Mexican lawyers to even provide advice to a client in NY on obtaining divorce in Mexico in accordance with Mexican laws.

Referring to the Advocates Act and the Bar Council Rules, the top court said, "We uphold the view of the Bombay High Court and Madras High Court in para 63 (i) of the judgment to the effect that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers can not practice profession of law in India either in the litigation or in non-litigation side".

BCI, the body that regulates legal profession in the country, had argued that foreign lawyers and law firms can't be allowed to work in the country unless they subjected themselves to Indian regulations.

The court said that foreign lawyers could, however, come to the country and participate in global commercial arbitration but they have no "absolute right" to do so.

To put the verdict into immediate effect, the bench directed the Bar Council and the Centre to "frame rules regarding participation of foreign law firms in International Commercial Arbitration".

Ajay Shaw, partner, DSK Legal, said: "This judgment will not have any bearing on Indian law firms at this stage". The Madras High Court had built on this in its 2012 ruling that foreign lawyers and firms could only advice Indian companies or individuals on a "fly-in-fly-out" basis, which effectively barred them from not just practice but also taking part in arbitrations and negotiations.

Modifying the High Court order, the top court said: "We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive". It had demanded, much like the Madras High Court, that these lawyers be enrolled as advocates (under the Advocates Act) to be able to prosecute court cases or practice law in litigious and non-litigious matters.

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.

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