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UK, Khursheed, BCI sign no ag’t on foreign law firms as Khursheed promises ‘fast-track’, BCI wants 6 months of exchanges but recognises case for non-litigation entry

Clarke: Gets India talking but no agreement
Clarke: Gets India talking but no agreement

Yesterday’s closed-door afternoon meeting between UK justice secretary Kenneth Clarke, Indian law minister Salman Kursheed and Bar Council of India (BCI) chairman Ashok Parija stopped short of reaching an agreement on the entry of foreign law firms but the countries would trial cooperation on the legal education front for the next six months.

Clarke and Khursheed both delivered early morning keynote addresses at yesterday’s Delhi seminar on “UK-India cooperation on emerging legal sector issues”, but it is understood that they left at around noon to meet in private.

One lawyer who was present at the seminar said: “They sprung a bit of a surprise – [Kursheed] said he was going to have a closed-door meeting with Ken Clarke and it would be appropriate if the Bar Council president and the Law Society president were also there. What he said was that [they] would together sit down and devise a roadmap for moving forward.”

The Economic Times reported that Khursheed promised Clarke that New Delhi will “put your issues on the fast track” and give decisions quickly and “decisions which have quality”, while the Hindustan Times wrote that the UK and India “agreed to allow the regulators for legal profession of both the sides to work out a mutually acceptable mechanism for the entry of each other’s law firms into the two countries”.

Parija told Legally India: “We’ve told the British, let’s have some initiatives before we get to the entry of foreign lawyers. We suggested exchanges between law students between the two countries, [exchanges of] law deans and training of young lawyers from India in the UK and vice versa.”

“And we could draw a roadmap for [foreigners doing] non-litigation practice in India – their strength is not litigation, ours is litigation. We want reciprocity for us in litigation,” said Parija while adding that such plans were too premature at the moment and in the next six months the academic exchanges would take priority.

BCI's Parija: Could draw roadmap for foreigners doing non-litigation
BCI's Parija: Could draw roadmap for foreigners doing non-litigation
He clarified that unlike the BCI’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Law Council of Australia, entered into in June 2010 to promote joint ventures primarily in the academic field, no such agreement was signed between Clarke and the Indian representatives yesterday. “These are very early days,” he said.

Tackling the issue of reciprocity would only arise after exchange programmes were put in place in favour of all of the BCI’s three main stakeholders, namely law students, deans of law colleges and the lawyers themselves, according to Parija.

In a UK justice ministry press release, Clarke said: “India is an emerging economic powerhouse, and a key player on the international stage. But in my meetings with influential Indian business people this week I will be making the case that restrictions on international law firms and foreign lawyers are holding back inward investment and growth there. Liberalisation is a vital contributor India’s future economic success, while an India that is more receptive to international trade would be hugely beneficial to the UK as an exporter.”

The meeting was also attended by other representatives from UK and Indian legal regulators, according to PIB.

A pro-liberalisation lawyer present at the seminar commented: “I think this is a good sign: the Bar Council wants to get out of the shadow of the Indian law firm policy on liberalisation – they don’t want to be seen to be purely toeing the line of the law firms and they want to have an independent stand.”

Legally India reported earlier this month that Clarke had vowed to make a “forceful case” for liberalisation on this visit.

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