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Foreign lawyers, firms cannot practice law in India: Supreme Court


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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that foreign lawyers or foreign law firms cannot practice profession of law either in litigation or in non-litigation side as held by the High Courts of Bombay and Madras.

On a petition by the Bar Council of India, the Bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Umesh Lalit made it clear that practice of law includes not only appearing in courts but also giving opinion, drafting documents and participating in conferences involving legal discussions.

“These are parts of non-litigation practice which is part of practice of law” and the Advocates Act makes it clear that those enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law as regulatory mechanism for conduct of advocates also applies to non-litigation work,” the court held in a 52-page judgment.

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“The prohibition applicable to any person in India, other than advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, certainly applies to any foreigner also,” it said. However, the Bench said that foreign lawyers could come to the country to participate in disputes arising out of contract relating to the international commercial arbitration, but they have no absolute right to conduct arbitration proceedings in such disputes.

It said the BPO companies engaged in rendering integrated services like word processing, secretarial support, transcription services, proof reading services, travel desk support services, etc. do not come within the ambit of the Advocate Act or the Bar Council of India Rules and thus they can operate in India, but if the services amount to practice of law, the Advocates Act will apply and the foreign law firms or foreign lawyers will not be allowed to do so.