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20 months on, most foreign law firms still not served in BCI appeal in AK Balaji writ; Dua, HSB instructed

Writ to nip foreign firms still in bud
Writ to nip foreign firms still in bud

Twenty months after the Supreme Court (SC) had given 10 weeks to complete serving notices on foreign law firms, the Bar Council of India (BCI) appeal in the AK Balaji Madras high court petition against foreign law firms practicing in India, remains stuck at the service stage.

TK Bhaskar, partner at Chennai-based firm HSB Advocates, is acting for Herbert Smith Freehills and told Legally India that the appeal has still not come up for hearing before a bench and in the only two hearings since July 2012, the last of which was in February, many respondents have not yet been served.

Bhaskar said: “We were last informed by our counsel on record in the Supreme Court that service is not complete on all the respondent law firms, while we have been served and therefore entered appearance in the SC. So the petitioners were asked whether they were willing to give up or enter appearance.”

HSB's counsel and advocate K Hari Shankar, [the litigation head of HSA Legal] who had been briefed in the case since the very beginning, passed away last week. HSB is currently in the process of looking for a new counsel on record. [Clarification: HSA Legal advocate-on-record K Hari Shankar, through whom HSB Advocates was acting in this case has passed away, and not the HSB Advocates partner Harishankar Krishnaswami, with a similar name. We regret any confusion caused.]

AK Balaji, is a respondent in the appeal launched by the BCI, and his counsel advocate Ardhendumauli Prasad was not reachable for comment repeatedly by phone and text.

Dua Associates, which represented 13 US law firms in the Madras high court, is on on record for US law firms White & Case and Covington & Burling, which have entered caveat in the Supreme Court, said Dua Chennai partner Senthil Kumar.

Kumar said that service had not yet been effected on the other 11 US law firms, and chambers judge last month said that all law firms that hadn’t been served could be struck off.

It is understood that service is taking time because most of the respondents are outside in India. As appellant, the BCI has responsibility for serving the respondents.

A total of 31 foreign law firms, including one legal process outsourcing (LPO) company, were served in the original Madras writ. The BCI launched the Supreme Court appeal in April 2012, after the Madras high court had delivered a pragmatic judgment in favour of the status quo, which continued to allow foreign lawyers to fly-in-fly-out of India.

In July 2012 the Supreme Court passed an interim order that reaffirmed the Madras high court judgment and the 2009 Lawyers’ Collective judgment of the Bombay high court, banning foreign firms from opening up shop here but allowing fly-in-fly-out.

The judgment also criticised chartered accountants (CAs) and raised question marks over legal process outsourcing (LPO) units.

Read all historical coverage of the AK Balaji writ

Photo by Jenny Downing

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