Supreme Court says foreign lawyers can't practice in India

Erika Holt
March 14, 2018

The court ruled that foreign law firms can fly in and fly out of the country to render legal advice, but they can't be allowed to set up permanent offices in the country.

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.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms can not open offices in India or practice in Indian courts, Live Law reported.

Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay has filed a petition praying that legislators be debarred from practicing as Advocates (for the period during which they are Members of Parliament or State Assembly), in spirit of Part-VI of the Bar Council of India Rules.

The court held that practicing of law includes appearance in courts but also giving of opinion, drafting of instruments, participation in conferences involving legal discussion.

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The court said that foreign lawyers could, however, come to the country and participate in global commercial arbitration but they have no "absolute right" to do so.

The ruling came from a bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit, who held that foreign law firms and advocates would also not be allowed to take place in negotiations or arbitration proceedings, and would have to rely on Indian partners to take such processes forward. "In any case, foreign firms looking to enter India, whenever permitted, will look at local alliances to hit the ground running".

Ajay Shaw, partner, DSK Legal, said: "This judgment will not have any bearing on Indian law firms at this stage". The prohibition applicable to any person in India, other than advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, certainly applies to any foreigner also.

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 global legal issues.

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