Even as the central government is yet to take a stand on entry of foreign law firms and lawyers in India, the Bar Council of India (BCI) — the top body tasked with regulating the legal practice in the country — has told the Supreme Court that foreign lawyers cannot be allowed even to chip in for seminars and conferences.
Opposing the entry of foreign lawyers and their firms to advise clients or participate in arbitration proceedings or as BPOs and LPOs (legal process outsourcing companies), the BCI has claimed that the legal practice would also include participation in seminars and conferences.
The latest affidavit, filed by BCI’s counsel Ardhendumauli K Prasad, has explicitly repelled any form of involvement by foreign lawyers in India, giving a wide connotation to the term “legal practice”.
“Practice of law does not necessarily mean rendering professional services on primary/legal basis in the territory of India. Further more, it will not be just and proper to state that discussion/negotiation by way of seminars, conferences and arbitration will not constitute practicing profession of law,” it stated.
The BCI said it ought to be clarified that “the practice of law, irrespective of its manner, form or time period involved, is contrary to the provisions as well as the principles of the Advocates Act and the Bar Council of India Rules”.
The affidavit has been filed in response to a clutch of petitions that favoured allowing foreign lawyers practice in India. The BCI had to come in appeal in the top court after the Madras High Court ruled in 2010 that foreign lawyers could be permitted to fly into India to advise their clients. This judgment had come after a Chennai advocate A K Balaji filed a petition in the High Court against 31 foreign firms, claiming they were practising illegally in India.
The BCI said the entire intention as to permit only qualified lawyers to practice law in India is because the Indian laws are of specialised nature and that in such circumstances, only those who have complete and overall idea of its functioning, are permitted to practice law by it. It relied upon a 2009 ruling by the Bombay High Court that prohibited a bunch of foreign law firms from having representative offices in India.
As laid down by this judgment, the BCI said Section 29 of the Advocates Act was wide enough to cover the persons practising in non-litigious matters and therefore foreign law firms were bound to follow the provisions of the Act.
The matter will be listed for further hearing on April 6.