Supreme Court says foreign lawyers can't practice in India

SC says foreign law firms cannot open offices in India

The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from the Bar Council of India (BCI) on a plea for ban on lawmakers from practising as advocates.

The Madras High court had said that foreign lawyers can fly in and fly out for tendering legal advice on foreign laws.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday barred foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers from practising legal profession in India either in the litigation or in non-litigation (rendering legal advice) side.

The court, however, allowed foreign lawyers to come to India on an advisory capacity, especially regarding worldwide law and global arbitration.

Madras High Court had passed the order on a petition from advocate A.K. Balaji, who had contended that foreign lawyers were visiting India on visitor visas and practising illegally under the guise of legal process outsourcing.

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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. Regarding participation of foreign lawyers in arbitration proceedings, the court said that foreign lawyers can not be debarred completely from coming to India to conduct arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to global commercial arbitration, if rules of arbitration permits such appearance.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, had called upon the Bar Council to exercise its power under Section 49 (1)(e) of the Act of 1961 and frame the rules governing the practice of law in India by foreign lawyers and law firms.

"We do not find any merit in the contention that the Advocates Act does not deal with companies or firms and only individuals", the court said.

"We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive. If in pith and substance the services amount to practice of law, the provisions of the Advocates Act will apply and foreign law firms or foreign lawyers will not be allowed to do so", the top court said in its 52-page verdict.

"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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