The Bombay High Court (Swatanter Kumar C.J. and J.P. Devdhar J.) has ruled yesterday that foreign law firms are not eligible to practice law in India. Furthermore, the drafting of opinions on legal matters amounts to practice of law. Foreign law firms are not entitled to open liaison offices in India. The case is Lawyers Collective v. Bar Council of India and Others, Writ Petition No. 1526/1995, judgment dated 16th December 2009 (per Devdhar J. for the Bench). The case can be downloaded here, along with a summary.
The issue before the Court was as follows:
“… whether the permissions granted by the Reserve Bank of India to the respondent Nos.12 to 14 foreign law firms to establish their place of business in India (liaison office) under Section 29 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1973 are legal and valid? Secondly, assuming such permissions are valid, whether these foreign law firms could carry on their liaison activities in India only on being enrolled as advocates under the Advocates Act, 1961? To be specific, the question is, whether practising in non litigious matters amounts to ‘practising the profession of law’ under section 29 of the Advocates Act, 1961?”
Respondents 12-14 were White & Case, Chadbourne & Park, and Ashurst Morris Crisp respectively. The Court answered the issues thus:
“… we hold that in the facts of the present case, the RBI was not justified in granting permission to the foreign law firms to open liaison offices in India under Section 29 of the 1973 Act. We further hold that the expressions ‘to practise the profession of law’ in section 29 of the 1961 Act is wide enough to cover the persons practising in litigious matters as well as persons practising in non litigious matters and, therefore, to practise in non litigious matters in India, the respondent Nos.12 to 14 were bound to follow the provisions contained in the 1961 Act…”
A detailed post will follow shortly. More details are available in various news reports. Some other links discussing the judgment are here and here.