Supreme Court bars foreign lawyers and firms from practising law in India

Supreme Court bars foreign lawyers and firms from practising law in India

Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel opined, "Fly in and fly out would cover a casual visit and not amount to practice".

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.

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

Foreign firms, companies and law firms can not practice legal profession in India, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

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. 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".

However, it has permitted foreign la firms to participate in arbitration proceedings.

The court said that foreign lawyers could, however, come to the country and participate in worldwide commercial arbitration but they have no "absolute right" to do so. 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 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 court, which also heard over 30 law firms hailing from the United Kingdom, the USA, France and Australia, also modifed a Madras High Court order permitting foreign lawyers and law firms to come to India on a "fly in and fly out" basis for rendering legal services here on offshore laws and diverse worldwide legal issues.

The court rejected the contention that the Advocates Act applies only if a person is practicing Indian law.

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