Thursday, February 23, 2012

Indian court dismisses challenge to presence of international law firms- Legalweek

From the Legalweek and Indian Express, 'via Blog this'

International law firms should not be prevented from visiting India to advise local clients on foreign law, an Indian high court has confirmed. The ruling comes in response to a petition questioning the legality of 'fly-in, fly-out' legal practices by foreign law firms as well as legal process outsourcing operations based on the ground in India.

The case was brought by Association of Indian Lawyers representative AK Balaji against the Government of India, the Bar Council of India and a list of more than 20 law firm defendants, including all of the UK's magic circle. The judgment, handed down by the high court in Madras yesterday (21 February), concluded that foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practice law in India either on the litigation or non-litigation side, but that there is no bar for foreign firms or lawyers to visit India on a temporary basis to advise locally-based clients on foreign law issues. The court also said that foreign lawyers can enter India to handle "arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to international commercial arbitration."

In a statement, Clifford Chance said: "We think it is unclear whether the court is saying that foreign lawyers cannot otherwise practise non Indian law in India. If that is the case, we consider it to be unnecessarily and unreasonably restrictive and we believe would be a misreading of the Advocates Act, which we do not believe was ever intended to address the question of the practise of non Indian Law. We will be considering whether an appeal to get clarity on these points is appropriate.

"What also remains to be addressed by the Indian authorities is the bigger issue of collaboration and partnership between Indian lawyers and international law firms, and of international firms advising on Indian as well as non Indian law."

The news comes after the Bar Council of India last year agreed to set out a timeline for the liberalisation of its legal market, prompting the Law Society of England and Wales to proclaim it was confident that the long-awaited process was finally underway.

From the Indian Express -

In an important decision, the Madras High Court on Tuesday allowed foreign lawyers and law firms to do business in India on a “fly-in-and-fly-out” basis while categorically refusing their plea to be allowed to practice in India, whether in litigation or non-litigation. Hearing the A K Balaji versus Union of India matter, the Division Bench of Chief Justice M Y Eqbal and Justice T S Sivagnanam ruled that foreign lawyers couldn’t be “debarred to come to India and conduct arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to international commercial arbitration”.

The court also paved the way for setting up legal process outsourcing (LPO) companies, but said they would have to stay away from court practice and giving legal advice, unless the advice pertains to foreign law.

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