Court bars practice by foreign lawyers

Sergio Conner
March 14, 2018

Writing the judgment, Justice Goel made it clear that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".

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.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms can not practise in India, but allowed global lawyers to "fly in and fly out" to provide legal advice to their clients in the country.

"Holding that the "... foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers can not practice profession of law in India, either in the litigation or in non-litigation side", a bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit said: "We hold that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the judgments of the Madras High Court in A.K.Balaji v. 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. Bar Council of India or the Union of India are at liberty to frame rules in this regard. 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.

"We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive".

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. It had demanded, much like the Madras High Court, that these lawyers be enrolled as advocates (under the Advocates Act) to be able to prosecute court cases or practice law in litigious and non-litigious matters.

One of them was passed by Madras High Court on February 21, 2012, and the other by Bombay High Court on December 16, 2009.

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