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Madras HC holidays, SC appointments push back Balaji case v foreign firms


The first hearing in the Chennai writ petition against 31 foreign law firms has run into the Madras High Court holidays and will not be heard for at least another month, although several other interested parties have now also pledged to file affidavits in support of the petition.

The writ petition was filed by Chennai advocate AK Balaji on behalf of the newly-formed Association of Indian Lawyers against 31 foreign law firms and legal process outsourcing (LPO) provider Integreon, claiming that they are practising law illegally in India.

The case was originally listed for its first hearing on 8 April after having been admitted on merits for the filing of replies by the Government and Bar Council respondents.

However, the matter has been subject to a string of delays since then.

Part of the delay in a first hearing has been due to Madras High Court Chief Justice Hemant Laxman Gokhale having being elevated to the Supreme Court last week and he was therefore focusing on adjudicating his other pending cases.

Since the end of last week (30 April) the Madras High Court has now been closed for the summer vacations. Hearings are set to restart on 7 June 2010 while advocates are awaiting the appointment of the court's next Chief Justice, according to sources with knowledge of the case.

Sources have also said that the outcome and success of the petition would depend on the stance adopted by the new Chief Justice.

It is understood that the petitioners also wish to add further law firms and LPOs as co-respondents to the case at its first hearing.

Meanwhile, the Madras High Court Advocates Association of 12,000 members and the Women Advocates Association of 2,000 lawyers led by its President D Prasanna have stated that they wish to file affidavits in support of the petition by the time of first hearing.

The Madras High Court Advocates Association president RC Paul Kanagaraj told Legally India that the organisation was going to implead itself in the case along with the other petitioners, although the body was yet to conclude the submissions it would make.

"The reason why we're opposing the entry of foreign law firms is an indirect approach of the foreign lawyers to step into the courts of India," he said, setting out the reason for the Assocation's opposition to the entry of foreign lawyers.

"Today they say they’re starting a law firm and there will be only consultation and the lawyers from abroad will prepare the cases and they will not appear," he noted but added that this was only a first step. "The companies of course have a right to consult with their own lawyers - they will prepare things and will have a consultation with their lawyer… But we don't believe it because once the entry is given, tomorrow they’ll say we're not happy with the work given and we'll ourselves do our case."

He also explained that to date foreign lawyers active in Chennai were acting through Indian law firms and through local Tamil Nadu firms, of which there were many.

For Balaji's affidavit arguing that foreign firms are currently violating the Advocates Act by practising law in India.

Photo by Roby Ferrari

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