Foreign Lawyers, Firms Cannot Practice In India, Says Supreme Court

  • Foreign Lawyers, Firms Cannot Practice In India, Says Supreme Court

Foreign Lawyers, Firms Cannot Practice In India, Says Supreme Court

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notice to apex regulatory body BCI on the plea which alleged that parliamentarians and legislators, practising as lawyers, posed a "conflict of interest" and violated the provisions of the Advocates Act and the Bar Council of India Rules.

Bar Council of India and the Bombay High Court in Lawyers Collective v. BCI and Ors. with modifications, to hold that foreign law firms can not open offices in India. The top court upheld the judgements by the Madras High Court in 2012 and the Bombay High Court in 2009 that foreign lawyers may only offer advice on foreign laws on a "fly-in-fly-out" basis.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms can not open offices in India or practice in Indian courts, Live Law reported. 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 court held that practicing of law includes appearance in courts but also giving of opinion, drafting of instruments, participation in conferences involving legal discussion.

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 worldwide commercial arbitration. The High Court said that "BPO companies providing wide range of customised and integrated services and functions to its customers like word processing, secretarial support, transcription services, proof reading services, travel desk support services etc do not come within the purview of the Advocates Act, 1961, or the Bar Council of India Rules".

The court also held that there was "no absolute right of the foreign lawyer" to come here and conduct arbitration proceedings in disputes arising out of a contract relating to worldwide commercial arbitration.

Modifying the High Court order, the top court said: "We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive".

The court's verdict came on batch of petitions filed by Bar Council of India and others.

The bench pointed out that the Advocates Act made it clear that "advocates enrolled with the Bar Council alone were entitled to practice law, except as otherwise provided in any other law".

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