Senior advocate and former additional solicitor general Abhishek Manu Singhvi yesterday argued for an early disposal of the Chennai writ petition against foreign law firms while the matter was once again adjourned after the Bar Council of India (BCI) counsel promised comprehensive guidelines regulating the activities of foreign law firms would be discussed at a meeting before the month-end.
BCI counsel and advocate general P S Raman told the court that the BCI had scheduled a meeting for 29 January. He said that a regulatory policy shall soon be adopted to decide on the question of foreign firms practicing in India and it was during this meeting something conclusive would emerge. Additional solicitor general M Ravindran representing the Ministry of Law and Justice also pleaded for more time to file a reply.
The Madras High Court bench comprising of the chief justice M Y Eqbal and justice T S Sivagnanam gave four weeks to the BCI and the government to furnish their replies and adjourned the hearing to 8 March.
But Singhvi, who is representing a number of US law firms that instructed Dua Associates local partner, told Legally India that the petitioners should withdraw the case. “It is an old pending case,” he said. “The basic point of the foreign law firm is that since they don’t practice any form of Indian law, there is no question of requiring an Indian law degree or qualification. Secondly, the central government has found no discrimination in their respective own countries qua Indian practitioners and have therefore deliberately not issued a Section 47 notification barring foreign lawyers from advising on foreign law even in India.”
“Thirdly and most importantly, since for the last one year or so, the bar council has itself been seeking and getting adjournments at Chennai on the basic ground that they are in the process of considering and finalising appropriate regulations on this issue, the foreign firms submitted to the court that the writ is premature. The writ petitioners should withdraw the writs and again approach the court if at all necessary in the light of the new regulation proposed to be framed in the near future and to be scrutinised also by the central government,” he argued.
The petitioner A K Balaji was present in court along with his advocates, explaining that they had intended to seek an adjournment because their arguing senior advocate ARL Sundaresan was not going to appear but that the litigation strategy would remain unchanged.
Balaji told Legally India: “Foreign firms continue to practice in India and by doing so they are violating the Advocates Act every day, we’re seeking a remedy against that. We have no idea about new writ petition. Any change in the [our] petition means the entire concept will go in a wrong way. We don’t intend to amend or modify our writ petition and will continue to plead that there has been violation of the advocates act.”
He added that their case differed from the Bombay High Court verdict as no interim injunction was then granted and the Madras High Court has the power and is competent to grant a stay. According to Balaji, the petition could at most be modified to implead more people as petitioners from their organisation, the Association of Indian Lawyers.
There have been prolonged delays by the BCI in filing its reply, having sought several adjournments citing varied reasons such as inviting consultations from stakeholders and requesting time for convening additional meetings since last August after a majority of foreign law firms filed their counter affidavits in the court.
The writ petition was admitted against 31 foreign law firms from UK and US including one LPO in April last year on behalf of Chennai advocate A K Balaji and Kolkata-based Association of Indian Lawyers.