New Delhi: Even as the Union ministry of law and justice is working towards allowing foreign law firms to practice in the country, the Bar Council of India (BCI), along with representatives of state bar councils, reinforced their opposition to this by passing a resolution to this effect on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the Bombay high court will hear a case between the government and BCI on the entry of foreign law firms into the country.
The resolution of BCI, a regulatory body that prescribes standards in professional conduct and etiquette for lawyers and legal educators, echoed the legal fraternity’s request to the government to refrain from taking any unilateral decisions or actions related to the entry of foreign law firms.
BCI said it would engage in a dialogue with bar associations of other countries to look into the “principle of reciprocity in this subject and ascertain the detailed procedure of the reciprocal arrangements and restrictions imposed for Indian lawyers to practice in foreign countries”.
“The resolution passed by BCI is judicious, timely and well-reasoned and we fully support it,” said Lalit Bhasin, president of Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), a representative body of law firms, and partner at Bhasin & Co.
The law ministry did not respond to, or comment on BCI’s resolution.
On 17 September, the ministry circulated a note proposing liberalization in the legal services sector in the country. SILF responded to this note on 15 November and said the government’s proposal was premature because it did not conform to the procedure laid down by the World Trade Organization’s general agreement on trade in services. SILF, which was created to safeguard the interests of Indian law firms also said the government’s proposal that came before the Bombay high court had dealt with a writ petition on the same issue and the India-UK Joint Economic Committee, created in 2005 to encourage opening Indian industry to foreign firms, could submit its report on legal services.
The writ petition was filed by the Lawyers Collective, a legal service provider in matters of public interest, and it challenged the licences held by some foreign firms granting them permission to operate liaison offices here. On 25 September, Mint had reported that the Centre had filed a counter-affidavit to this writ petition.
SILF’s 15 November representation and BCI’s resolution challenge the government’s affidavit, which suggests that the practice of foreign law is outside the scope of the Indian Advocates Act, 1961, and that foreign lawyers are not barred from practising in India. The Advocates Act regulates legal practice in India. “We are against such actions taken by the government while it is still in talks with us,” said BCI chairman Gopakumaran Nair. A division bench of Bombay HC is expected to hear the Lawyers Collective case on Tuesday.