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British PM’s India mission to ‘pave way for UK lawyers’ • Services discussed today • BCI complains to NaMo

This isn't the first time a UK prime minister is in India for UK law firms. But this may be the first time that somebody here may be listening...

UK & India PMs talk bilaterally, with liberalising services clearly on agenda
UK & India PMs talk bilaterally, with liberalising services clearly on agenda

Opening up of professional services appeared to have been discussed by the delegation headed by UK prime minister Theresa May with the Indian government today, with British justice secretary Elizabeth Truss having said that May would “pave the way for UK lawyers to practise there” after she was asked about the progress of liberalisation in the UK parliament.

Truss had said on 1 November, in response to a query by ex-UK law minister Shailesh Vara: “The Prime Minister will visit India this month to pave the way for UK lawyers to practise there, helping to improve our international business and trade. English law is a massive asset that we can leverage for wider business negotiation.”

Facing the pressure of impending Brexit and feared economic woes at home, May arrived in India yesterday and today met Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, with both pledging to “break down barriers” and reaffirming their commitment to a strong “bilateral relationship”, focusing in particular on collaboration in the field of science.

However, according to a speech by Modi republished on his official website, not just industry but liberalisation of the services sector too was on the agenda:

The meeting of the India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee later this afternoon will take forward the business agenda. We have also agreed to establish a Joint Working Group on Trade. We believe that such a group should not only focus on ways to increase trade in goods, but also on the expansion of services trade, including through greater mobility of skilled professionals.

This is far from the first UK contingent to raise the issue of services and foreign law firms: in 2010, Clifford Chance’s then senior partner Stuart Popham went to India as part of then-prime minister David Cameron’s delegation to India and in 2011 cabinet minister Ken Clarke made a case for liberalisation when visiting India.

However, it is likely that the UK has found more fertile soil in India this time than ever before, with the Modi government itself a keen supporter of the project.

BCI not pleased

Meanwhile, Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, who broke off talks with the Indian government to liberalise the legal sector, has reportedly sent a letter to Modi warning that bureaucrats were “making (an) attempt to usurp the functions of the BCI”.

Mishra told the Hindustan Times: “We are yet to hear from the PM’s office. The BCI will meet on the issue and chart the next course of action... The bureaucrats (in the law and commerce ministries) are trying to make an attempt to bring in foreign law firms through the back door.”

UK parliamentary procedures

On 1 November, according to the UK parliamentary transcripts in Hansard of 1 November, which were first reported by the Law Society Gazette, the following question was asked and answered:

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)

The Justice Secretary will be aware that in the past couple of years considerable progress has been made in allowing UK lawyers to practise in India. Will she update the House on progress so far, particularly given that the Prime Minister will be visiting India in the next few days?

Elizabeth Truss

I commend my hon. Friend for his work as a Minister in the Department to promote legal links with India; I am pleased to say that those are being taken forward. The Prime Minister will visit India this month to pave the way for UK lawyers to practise there, helping to improve our international business and trade. English law is a massive asset that we can leverage for wider business negotiation.

In January 2016, when justice minister, Vara had commended Indian finance minister Arun Jaitley who had said at an event with then-UK-finance minister George Osborne that foreign lawyers should be able to “provide legal advice on non-Indian law”.

Vara, who is of Gujarati origins, has long lobbied for liberalisation of the Indian legal market, having called for the opening of the Indian legal sector at a press conference Ahmedabad in 2014.

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