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A new writ filed against entry of foreign law firms in Madras HC

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A Tamil Nadu advocate has reportedly filed a writ petition against 30 foreign law firms and legal process outsourcing (LPO) company Integreon for "illegally practising" law in violation of the Advocates Act 1961, according to unconfirmed media reports, although no notices have been served on the respondents yet.

The Madras High Court petition of A.K. Balaji "prayed for a direction to prohibit the firms or foreign lawyers from having any legal practice either on the litigation side or non-litigation and commercial transactions in any manner in the country", wrote Indian daily The Hindu today.

The Hindu added that the petition argued that a "wholesome reading of the Advocates Act would make it abundantly clear that to be entitled to practise law in India, a person should be a citizen of India and possess a law degree obtained from a university in the country".

It is understood that 30 non-Indian law firms have been named in the petition, including the Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and most other corporate firms with India practices, US firms, French firms, Singaporean firms and Australian firms and LPO provider Integreon, although this could not be authoritatively verified.

Legally India
has contacted several of the firms but it is understood that none had been served with notices at the time of going to press.

All firms were unavailable for comment, as some are understood to be evaluating whether the claim is vexatious or a genuine one.

The Hindu wrote: "Allowing entry of foreign law firms with no reciprocal arrangements with respect to Indian lawyers should not be entertained. In response, Indian lawyers have to be allowed to work in the respective countries. Otherwise, foreign law firms should not be allowed to exploit the Indian legal market."

"The petitioner said while the law on the subject was clear, various international law firms having roots outside India had opened offices in the country or neighbouring countries and taking up legal practice within the country such as mergers, takeovers, acquisitions, amalgamations, and so on, and were into various commercial transactions and arbitrations," said the paper.

The case is listed on the causelist of Friday 18 March 2010 as M/S.R.Ethilarasan (PIL) Karthikeyan for injunction 5614 / 2010, although no documents have been uploaded to the court's website yet and it is not confirmed whether the petition has been accepted on merits.

News site Express Buzz reported today that "the First Bench comprising Chief Justice HL Gokhale and Justice V Dhanapalan, before which the public interest writ petition from AK Balaji of Harur came up for hearing on Friday, ordered issuance of notice to the authorities concerned returnable by April 8".

On 16 December 2009 the Bombay High Court had ruled in the Lawyers Collective case that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should not have granted Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case licences to open up liaison offices in India and that the firms had been "practising law" contrary to the Advocates Act.

Click here to view the text of the petition.

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