Court bars practice by foreign lawyers

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

Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel opined, "Fly in and fly out would cover a casual visit and not amount to practice".

However, the court said, foreign lawyers would be "governed by the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India", even as it gave liberty to the Bar Council of India and the Centre to frame rules in this regard.

The top court, however, said that there was no bar on foreign law firms or foreign lawyers to visit India for a temporary period on a "fly in and fly out" basis for giving legal advice to their clients in India on foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse worldwide legal issues.

The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) in a petition seeking ban on MPs and MLAs from practicing law.

Foreign lawyers and law firms can not practice or open offices in India, the Supreme Court has held. However, the Bombay High Court in Lawyers' Collective had held that foreign law firms could not open liaison offices in India.

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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.

The apex court also held that foreign lawyers can appear in worldwide commercial arbitration subject to relevant institutional framework and rules. According to The Times of India, BPO companies working on legal services have also been given a free pass to operate in India as they don't come under the ambit of the Advocates Act.

"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. He had said that foreign lawyers should be allowed to come to India if Indian lawyers wanted the privilege of doing so in other countries.

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

The issue involved in this batch of matters is whether foreign law firms/lawyers are permitted to practice in India. The foreign firms denied the allegations.

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