Court bars practice by foreign lawyers

"A casual visit for giving advice may not be covered by the expression "practice", the bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit said.

The court empowered the Bar Council of India or Union of India to make appropriate Rules in this regard, including extending Code of Ethics being applicable even to such cases.

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.

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

The foreign lawyers and firms, which would take part in global arbitration proceedings, "will be governed by code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India", the court said.

"Conversely, (the) plea that a foreign lawyer is entitled to practise foreign law in India without subjecting himself to the regulatory mechanism of the Bar Council of India Rules can also be not accepted".

The court also held that there was "no absolute right of the foreign lawyer" to come here and conduct arbitration proceedings in disputes arising out of a contract relating to global commercial arbitration. "We want foreign lawyers to come so as to not deny the Indian advocates of the same privilege in other countries".

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

Modifying the High Court order, the top court said: "We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive".

One of them was passed by Madras High Court on February 21, 2012, and the other by Bombay High Court on December 16, 2009. The court upheld the two judgments to the extent that foreign law firms could not practise in India. "In any case, foreign firms looking to enter India, whenever permitted, will look at local alliances to hit the ground running".

The court said: "If the Rules of Institutional Arbitration apply or the matter is covered by the provisions of the Arbitration Act, foreign lawyers may not be debarred from conducting arbitration proceedings arising out of global commercial arbitration in view of Sections 32 and 33 of the Advocates Act".

Vanessa Coleman