Supreme Court says foreign lawyers can't practice in India

SC says foreign law firms cannot open offices in India

SC says foreign law firms cannot open offices in India

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 global legal issues.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that foreign lawyers or foreign law firms can not practice profession of law either in litigation or in non-litigation side as held by the High Courts of Bombay and Madras. It has maintained that although, it is not averse to the idea of practice of law by foreign lawyers and firms, it should be based on reciprocity and regulated by the Advocates Act.

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.

The court also held that foreign lawyers and law firms had no absolute right to participate in arbitration proceedings in India, but could participate in worldwide arbitration proceedings held in the country, subject to Bar Council regulations.

One of them was passed by Madras High Court on February 21, 2012, and the other by Bombay High Court on December 16, 2009. However, the Supreme Court has clarified that BCI or the government is free to make appropriate rules to govern them which may include making the current code of ethics applicable to the foreign lawyers as well.

The issue involved in this batch of matters is whether foreign law firms/lawyers are permitted to practice 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 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". The foreign firms denied the allegations. Bar Council of India or the Union of India are at liberty to frame rules in this regard.

It, however, said that foreign lawyers may not be debarred from conducting arbitration proceedings arising out of global commercial arbitration in view of the provisions of the Advocates Act.