Foreign lawyers, firms can not practice law in India

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Justices AK Goel and Uday Lalit made it clear that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".

The court also said that foreign lawyers could not be barred from coming to India to conduct arbitration proceedings in disputes involving global commercial arbitration but they would be subject to the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India.

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.

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 Bench said that foreign lawyers could come to the country to participate in disputes arising out of contract relating to the global commercial arbitration, but they have no absolute right to conduct arbitration proceedings in such disputes. It also ruled that Business Process Outsourcing companies working on legal services can operate in India because they are not required to operate under the ambit of the Advocates Act, The Times of India reported.

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

At this juncture, the Supreme Court's decision comes off as a "protectionist" move to prevent foreign law practices and legal professionals from exposing the gaps in the Indian judiciary, especially after the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had amended a rule past year to allow foreign legal firms to set up offices and advise clients hailing from Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Foreign law firms have primarily worked on best-friend relationships with Indian law firms and may continue to do so now that specific directives have been issued.

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. 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.

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