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'It will happen soon', says law ministry on liberalisation, but all depends on speed of bar councils

BCI corridors is where it needs to happen
BCI corridors is where it needs to happen

The bar councils are the only remaining speed bump in the government liberalising legal services, the law ministry secretary working on the entry of foreign law firms said today.

Union law ministry secretary PK Malhotra, while addressing a session on the liberalisation of legal services at the Indo-US Cross Border Investment Forum in Delhi this morning, pointed out that the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) consultation process on the issue of liberalisation involved consulting with every state bar council in India and this is where the process may be taking time.

When asked if there was any definite timeline for when India would finally see liberalisation in legal services, he commented: “I think what you have to appreciated is that it is not the government alone which has to pass it. Once you’re dealing with a statutory body created by the law laid down by the parliament (such as the BCI) you have to give them time for consultation. Once this consultation is complete it will move forward. I can’t put a definite timeline on it but it will happen soon.”

The American Bar Association (ABA) met the Bar Council of India (BCI) yesterday to discuss liberalisation in legal services.

DLA Piper partner and ABA member Erik Wulff, who confirmed the news to Legally India, said that a follow up meeting was being planned.

He declined to comment on what exactly happened at the meeting but said that the BCI was supportive of liberalisation, though as the regulator of the profession they would have to look into “many other aspects of the profession and not just the economic one”.

Society of Indian Law Firms (Silf) president Lalit Bhasin, while addressing the same session, remarked: “We support liberalisation of the profession and not commercialisation of the profession. Commercialisation is not the agenda.”

He added that the two things that could facilitate the process of liberalisation were:

- First, amendments to the Advocates Act 1961 would have to be made. The prerogative for that lay with the government and not the SILF, he said.

- Second, the BCI is the appellant in the writ pending in the Supreme Court against the entry of Foreign law firms. “Why does the BCI not withdraw it’s appeal?” he asked.

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