In a major development, the Bar Council of India (BCI) has decided to open up law practice in India to foreign lawyers and foreign law firms. However, the rules clarify that the foreign lawyers and firms shall not be permitted to appear before any courts, tribunals or other statutory or regulatory authorities.
𝗡𝗲𝘄 𝗕𝗖𝗜 𝗿𝘂𝗹𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝘁'𝗹 𝗹𝗮𝘄𝘆𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗮𝗱𝘃𝗶𝘀𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝗜𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗮
The BCI released Bar Council of India Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022, that will enable international lawyers and arbitration practitioners to advise in India.
𝗙𝗼𝗿𝗲𝗶𝗴𝗻 𝗹𝗮𝘄𝘆𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗳𝗶𝗿𝗺𝘀 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝗯𝗲 𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗼𝘄𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗮𝗿 𝗯𝗲𝗳𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝘀
As per the Rules, foreign lawyers and firms shall be entitled to practice law in India in non-litigious matters. The areas of practice of law they are allowed to do shall be laid down by the BCI, in consultation with the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. Foreign lawyers and firms shall not be permitted to appear before any courts, tribunals or other statutory or regulatory authorities.
They may provide legal advice and appear as a lawyer before bodies other than courts, tribunals, boards, statutory authorities which are not legally entitled to take evidence on oath, in cases in which knowledge of foreign law of the country of primary qualification is essential. Also, they may provide legal advice concerning the laws of the country of primary qualification and on diverse international legal issues. This shall not include representation or the preparation of documents regarding procedures before an Indian court, tribunal or any other authority competent to record evidence on oath.
𝗜𝗻𝘁'𝗹 𝗳𝗶𝗿𝗺𝘀 𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗼𝘄𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗼𝗽𝗲𝗻 𝗼𝗳𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗲𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝗜𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗮
The registered foreign law firms are also allowed to open up law offices; and can engage and procure legal expertise of one or more Indian advocates registered as foreign lawyers.
While releasing the rules, the statutory body of lawyers said that the time had come to take a call on the issue and it will go a long way in helping the legal profession to grow in India. “Bar Council of India is of the view that opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law; diverse international legal issues in non-litigious matters and in international arbitration cases would go a long way in helping legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India too.”
Further, it said that India is not likely to suffer any disadvantage if law practice is opened up to foreign lawyers in a restricted, well-controlled and regulated manner.
𝗥𝘂𝗹𝗲𝘀 𝘀𝗲𝘁 𝘁𝗼 𝗵𝗲𝗹𝗽 𝗮𝗱𝗱𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝗰𝗲𝗿𝗻 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗶𝗻𝗳𝗹𝗼𝘄 𝗼𝗳 𝗙𝗗𝗜
These rules will help in addressing concern regarding inflow of Foreign Direct Investment in the country and “making India a hub of International Commercial Arbitration”.
The Rules make it clear that a foreign lawyer or law firm shall not be entitled to practice law in India without registration with the BCI. The registration fee for a foreign lawyer is $25,000 and for a law firm, the fee is $50,000.
The rules emphasise that the right to practice law in the concerned foreign country of primary qualification shall be the primary qualification for practicing law in India.
𝗥𝗲𝗴𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝗯𝗲 𝘃𝗮𝗹𝗶𝗱 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝟱 𝘆𝗲𝗮𝗿𝘀
The registration shall be valid for a period of 5 years. For renewal, the foreign lawyers/firms are required to file an application within 6 months before the date on which such validity expires.
The Rules also provide for disciplinary action in case registration is obtained through misrepresentation. Penalties include reprimanding the foreign lawyer/law Firm, suspending the registration, imposition of penalties etc.
Initially, the BCI was opposing entry of foreign lawyers and foreign law firms in India in any form. A PIL was filed by Lawyers’ Collective in the Bombay High Court seeking that foreign lawyers and law firms be permitted to pratice in India. The HC had held that the Reserve Bank of India was not justified in granting permission to the foreign law firms to open liaison offices in India.
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