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Foreign lawyers, firms can not practice law in India: SC

Foreign lawyers, firms can not practice law in India: SC

The apex court was hearing a batch of appeals and cross-appeals from the Bar Council and foreign law firms challenging two high court judgments that had held that foreign law firms and lawyers can not practise in India.

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.

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign lawyers or law firms cannot practise in India and can only "fly in and fly out" on a "casual basis" to give advice on worldwide laws. However, the Bombay High Court in Lawyers' Collective had held that foreign law firms could not open liaison offices in India. "We want foreign lawyers to come so as to not deny the Indian advocates of the same privilege in other countries".

The Court has also permitted foreign lawyers to participate in global commercial arbitrations, subject to institutional rules. However, they will be governed by code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India. "In any case, foreign firms looking to enter India, whenever permitted, will look at local alliances to hit the ground running". The court upheld the two judgments to the extent that foreign law firms could not practise in India. "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. 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". All others can appear only with the permission of the court, authority or person before whom the proceedings are pending, it said, adding the regulatory mechanism for conduct of advocates applies to non-litigation work too.