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Surprise law min press release says BCI still opposes foreign lawyers, source unclear

The Law Ministry has issued two statements on behalf of the Bar Council of India (BCI) that the regulatory body “has decided not to permit foreign lawyers into India” but was subject to “rational scrutiny”, despite the BCI not having discussed the issue at the BCI’s three previous meets.

Legally India could not confirm the intention behind issuing the press releases and whether they were the result of a BCI resolution or an individual BCI member’s statements.

India’s press information bureau published two statements on its website on Tuesday. The first was under the heading “Entry of Foreign Law Firms” and stated: “The Bar Council of India, which is concerned with the safeguard the rights, privileges and interests of advocates, has received numerous representations on the subject.

“The Bar Council of India has decided not to permit foreign lawyers into India.”

“However, the said decision is being subject to a more detailed and rational scrutiny in the light of the opinions and points of view of different stakeholders. The Bar Council of India is committed to take steps which will benefit the Indian legal profession.”

The second statement named Opening of Legal Profession to UK Lawyers said: “The Bar Council of India, a statutory body has informed that they perceive the Indian legal profession to be both service oriented as well as based on business principles. However, it is important to understand the legal profession in the Indian context. At the same time, Indian lawyers are not averse to self-upgradation and skill acquisition. Once the said reforms process is initiated, the profession could be stated to be in some readiness to the opening up of the legal sector.

“However, this is a matter which is to be considered by the Bar Council of India and the Bar Council is presently laying a clear road map for the purpose of ensuring legal reforms so that even entry of foreign lawyers would cause no serious concern.”

Last week on 21 September the BCI published minutes to its last three meetings of April, August and 4 September. The minutes documented the de-recognition of more than 50 law schools, as well as an apparent attempt by a law school to unsuccessfully bribe the BCI chairman and solicitor general Gopal Subramanium.

However, on page 24 of the minutes, item No.58/2010 (LE) “to consider the note on permission to practice foreign law in India, including practice in Arbitration / Mediation Law” was deferred on 4 September to the next meeting of the committee.

Subramanium was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

In an April Legally India interview with the BCI chairman, Subramanium had said that “at this stage… without any doubt” he was not in favour of the entry of foreign lawyers, adding that Indian lawyers had to “reclaim business” that had left India first and required reciprocity of practice in foreign jurisdictions.

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