The bar councils are the only remaining speed bump in the government liberalising legal services, the civil servant responsible for working on the entry of foreign law firms said on Friday.
Union law ministry secretary P.K. Malhotra, addressing a session on the liberalisation of legal services at the Indo-US Cross Border Investment Forum in Delhi, pointed out that the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) consultation process on liberalisation involved consulting with every state bar council in India and this is where the process may be taking time.
When asked if there was any definite timeline for legal services to be opened up, he commented: “I think what you have to appreciate is that it is not the government alone which has to pass it. Once you’re dealing with a statutory body created by the law laid down by the parliament (such as the BCI) you have to give them time for consultation. Once this consultation is complete it will move forward. I can’t put a definite timeline on it but it will happen soon."
The American Bar Association (ABA) met the Bar Council of India (BCI) on Thursday to discuss liberalisation of legal services.
DLA Piper partner and ABA member Erik Wulff said that a follow-up meeting was being planned.
He declined to comment on what exactly happened at the meeting but said that the BCI was supportive of liberalisation, though as the regulator of the profession it would have to look into “many other aspects of the profession and not just the economic one".
Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) president Lalit Bhasin, addressing the same session, remarked: “We support liberalisation of the profession and not commercialisation of the profession. Commercialisation is not the agenda."
He added that the two things that could facilitate the process of liberalisation were, first, making amendments to the Advocates Act, 1961. The prerogative for that lay with the government and not the Silf, he said.
Second, the BCI was the appellant in a writ pending in the Supreme Court against the entry of foreign law firms. “Why does the BCI not withdraw its appeal?" Bhasin asked.
The Union government has been working on allowing foreign law firms to enter India for more than a year now, having faced initial resistance from bodies such as SILF and the BCI.