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BCI takes Madras writ v 31 foreign firms to Supreme Court

Foreign firms: Back in the ring
Foreign firms: Back in the ring

The Bar Council of India (BCI) today filed its long-awaited appeal against the Madras High Court judgment that allowed foreign lawyers limited foreign law practice in India.

Newly appointed BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra and BCI secretary Jogi Ram Sharma told Legally India today that the Supreme Court special leave petition was filed today. Before today the appeal was still in its draft stage, Sharma said yesterday.

In the 21 February judgment in AK Balaji v The Government of India, Ashurst LLP, White & Case & ors, the high court in Chennai had clarified its reading of the law relating to the practice of law in India of the 31 foreign law firm respondents and one legal process outsourcing (LPO) company.

In particular, the bench held that foreign lawyers could “fly-in-fly-out” for temporary periods to advise clients, adding that foreign lawyers would not be allowed to practice domestic law unless they registered with the BCI.

Legally India and Mint reported in February that former BCI chairman Ashok Parija said that the BCI would attempt to resolve the conflict between the Bombay high court judgment, which imposes a total ban on foreign lawyers, and the Madras judgment which allowed fly-in-fly-out, through an appeal in the Supreme Court.

Standing counsel for the BCI, Ardhendumauli Kumar Prasad, said that the BCI had challenged the Madras High Court’s power to pronounce on issues relating to professional legal practice by foreign lawyers, citing that the same issues had already been dealt with comprehensively by the Bombay High Court in the so-called Lawyers Collective judgment, according to legal website Bar and Bench, which reported that the BCI had filed its appeal yesterday.

Prasad added that the appeal also asserted that any foreign lawyers ought to enrol themselves with the BCI, as per the provisions of Advocates Act 1961, in order to practice in India.

In February UK magic-circle firm Clifford Chance welcomed the ruling but also said it might appeal, because it was unclear whether the decision attempted to ban foreign lawyers practicing non-Indian law in India.

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