Foreign lawyers, firms can not practice law in India


BCI had drawn the top court's attention to the 2009 judgment of the Bombay High Court, which held that RBI was not right in allowing foreign law firms to open liaison offices in India.

At this juncture, the Supreme Court's decision comes off as a "protectionist" move to prevent foreign law practices and legal professionals from exposing the gaps in the Indian judiciary, especially after the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had amended a rule past year to allow foreign legal firms to set up offices and advise clients hailing from Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

As first reported by Live Law, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of foreign lawyers to fly in on a temporary basis to India to advise clients, as well as finding that foreign lawyers should be allowed to conduct worldwide arbitrations in India.

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

On a petition by the Bar Council of India, the Bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Umesh Lalit made it clear that practice of law includes not only appearing in courts but also giving opinion, drafting documents and participating in conferences involving legal discussions.

The foreign lawyers and firms, which would take part in global arbitration proceedings, "will be governed by code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India", the court said.

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

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

The apex court also held that foreign lawyers can appear in worldwide commercial arbitration subject to relevant institutional framework and rules.

The Court has also asked BCI and the Central Government to frame necessary rules in this regard.

The court rejected the contention that the Advocates Act applies only if a person is practicing Indian law.

The court verdict came on pleas challenging the judgments pronounced by the Bombay and Madras High Courts. The foreign firms denied the allegations.