Foreign Lawyers, Firms Cannot Practice In India, Says Supreme Court

Foreign Lawyers, Firms Cannot Practice In India, Says Supreme Court

Foreign Lawyers, Firms Cannot Practice In India, Says Supreme Court

"We hold that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".

Foreign lawyers, law firms and companies cannot practice the legal profession in India, the Supreme Court today held in a verdict that could have far-reaching consequences. The top court upheld the judgements by the Madras High Court in 2012 and the Bombay High Court in 2009 that foreign lawyers may only offer advice on foreign laws on a "fly-in-fly-out" basis.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign lawyers or law firms cannot practise in India and can only "fly in and fly out" on a "casual basis" to give advice on global laws. Regarding participation of foreign lawyers in arbitration proceedings, the court said that foreign lawyers can not be debarred completely from coming to India to conduct arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to global commercial arbitration, if rules of arbitration permits such appearance. 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.

BCI, the body that regulates legal profession in the country, had argued that foreign lawyers and law firms can't be allowed to work in the country unless they subjected themselves to Indian regulations.

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"Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly-in-and-fly-out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis".

The top court's ruling had come on an appeal by the Bar Council of India (BCI) against the judgment of the Madras high court.

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

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