NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has issued notice on a plea challenging a notification issued by the Bar Council of India (BCI) last year permitting the entry of foreign law firms and lawyers in India.
The court, consisting of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora, issued notices to both BCI and central government.
The Court has sought the BCI’s response on the plea and listed the matter for hearing on April 24.
The case relates to the Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022 which were notified by the BCI last year, permitting foreign lawyers to be registered in, and to practice non-litigious law matters in India.
Challenging the notification, the plea inter alia asserts that the rules are discriminatory against Indian professionals because they continue to be governed by the code of conduct and regulations under the Advocates Act, whereas foreign lawyers and law firms would still be governed by their home countries’ rules.
The plea has also questioned the BCI’s authority under the Advocates Act of 1961 to grant such permission, arguing that only advocates enrolled with the BCI are allowed to practice law in India under the present law.
While initially, the Bar Council of India itself was opposing the entry of foreign lawyers and foreign law firms in India in any form, in Joint Consultative Conferences between the BCI, the State Bar Councils and other stakeholders between 2007-14 it was decided to explore this avenue.
Further, in September 2022, representatives from the Law Society of England and Wales and the U.K. government's international trade department engaged in discussions with Indian law firm representatives seeking removal of restrictions on foreign lawyers practising in India.
The BCI then issued rules in March 2023, allowing foreign lawyers and law firms to practice only foreign law, international law, and international arbitration matters in India under the principle of reciprocity.
No permission is granted for them to appear in Indian courts.
However, the plea highlights the absence of mutual arrangement between India and the countries whose law firms are being permitted to operate in India and argues that the BCI's decision violates the principle of reciprocity.
The objects of the rules said the law practice in India will be opened for
"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".