Court bars practice by foreign lawyers

Breaking: Can legislators practice law? Supreme Court notice to BCI

Breaking: Can legislators practice law? Supreme Court notice to BCI

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud issued notice to apex regulatory body BCI on the plea which alleged that parliamentarians and legislators, practising as lawyers, posed a "conflict of interest" and violated the provisions of the Advocates Act and the Bar Council of India Rules.

BCI had drawn the top court's attention to the 2009 judgment of the Bombay High Court, which held that RBI was not right in allowing foreign law firms to open liaison offices in India.

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

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The court also held that foreign lawyers and law firms had no absolute right to participate in arbitration proceedings in India, but could participate in worldwide arbitration proceedings held in the country, subject to Bar Council regulations.

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.

"We do not find any merit in the contention that the Advocates Act does not deal with companies or firms and only individuals", the court said. The prohibition applicable to any person in India, other than advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, certainly applies to any foreigner also.

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The ruling came from a bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit which heard a batch of appeals against orders of the Bombay and Madras High Courts.

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

At this juncture, the Supreme Court's decision comes off as a "protectionist" move to prevent foreign law practices and legal professionals from exposing the gaps in the Indian judiciary, especially after the Ministry of Commerce and Industry had amended a rule a year ago to allow foreign legal firms to set up offices and advise clients hailing from Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

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