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Madras HC may give verdict in writ v foreign firms in 4 weeks, as arguments close

Foreign firm crossing: Stop and Go
Foreign firm crossing: Stop and Go

The Madras High Court reserved its judgement yesterday and has begun deliberating on the fate of 31 international law firms and legal process outsourcing (LPO) outfit Integreon, and whether they face a ban of flying into India, after counsel for all sides concluded arguments.

The court of chief justice MY Eqbal, with justice T.S Sivagnanam, presided all day yesterday from 10:30 am until 4pm in the matter AK Balaji v The Government of India, Ashurst LLP, White & Case et al (WP5614/2010).

Dua Associates Chennai partner R Senthil Kumar, who briefed senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi on behalf of a number of US law firms, told Legally India that he expected the court to hand down its judgment soon. “It [the verdict] could be anything from two weeks to lets say about three months. [It is] more likely maybe in about four weeks.”

The March 2010 writ filed in the Madras High Court by the Association of Indian Lawyers, which includes petitioner AK Balaji, seeks a ban on the entry of foreign law firms in India, alleging that such firms violate rules laid down in the Advocates Act, among other issues.

Kumar said: “[Our] main argument was that the Advocates Act does not deal with or refers to the practice of foreign law. It neither regulates nor prohibits the practice of foreign law.”

“Therefore our case was that [since] we [US law firms] don’t have offices in India, we don’t practice Indian law and because the Advocates Act neither prohibits nor regulates the practice of foreign law, by [means of] the judicial order the petitioner is attempting to ban up something which is not covered under the Act.”

Balaji was represented by senior counsel AR Sundaresan and counsel on record Karthikeyan.

Karthikeyan told Legally India: “In their arguments they admitted that they practice in India but do not have offices in India. They provide advice from their country to Indian clients… But the practice of law includes any law. There is no demarcating line.”

“The BCI [Bar Council of India] in their counter has expressly stated that they are not going to allow [foreign law firms]. They have expressly stated [this],” he added, as was reported by Legally India in August of last year, citing the BCI’s affidavit and submissions.

The writ was the only matter heard in the Chief’s court yesterday. “It [the hearing] started at around 10:30 in the morning and went on till 4 in the evening”, said Karthikeyan.

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