Foreign lawyers, firms cannot practice or open offices in India: Supreme Court

They can only advice Indian clients on a 'fly-in-fly-out' basis, the apex court held.

Foreign lawyers, firms cannot practice or open offices in India: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court (pictured) upheld earlier judgments on the matter by the Madras and Bombay High Courts. (File picture)

NEW DELHI: Foreign lawyers and law firms cannot practice or open offices in India, the Supreme Court has held. The top court upheld the judgements by the Madras High Court in 2012 and the Bombay High Court in 2009 that foreign lawyers may only offer advice on foreign laws on a 'fly-in-fly-out' basis.

The Supreme Court also directed the Bar Council of India (BCI) to frame the rules to govern the role that lawyers from other countries can be involved in legal matters in India, reported news agency ANI. Counsels for the BCI, arguing against allowing foreign lawyers from practicing in India, pointed to similar limitation being placed in other countries. 

They cited an American case in which it was deemed an unauthorised practice of the law for a Mexican lawyer in New York to advice on divorce proceedings in Mexico under Mexican law, legal news portal Live Law reported.

The ruling came from a bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit, who held that foreign law firms and advocates would also not be allowed to take place in negotiations or arbitration proceedings, and would have to rely on Indian partners to take such processes forward.

Earlier, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh had told the court that the Centre supports the entry of foreign firms in the Indian legal sector. He had said that foreign lawyers should be allowed to come to India if Indian lawyers wanted the privilege of doing so in other countries.

The Bombay High Court, in its 2009 judgement, had held that while foreign law firms could not practice in India, foreign individuals may do so after getting registered in India. The Madras High Court had built on this in its 2012 ruling that foreign lawyers and firms could only advice Indian companies or individuals on a 'fly-in-fly-out' basis, which effectively barred them from not just practice but also taking part in arbitrations and negotiations. 

(With inputs from ANI)