The Supreme Court held that foreign law firms cannot set up offices and their lawyers cannot practise in India but they can give legal advice on foreign laws. The ruling was given by apex court on appeal by Bar Council of India (BCI), challenging judgements by Bombay and Madras High Courts. The ruling does not permit globalization of the legal sector as of now but it shifts the onus on Central Government to do so.
It allowed casual visits by foreign lawyers on fly in and fly out (FIFO) basis for rendering legal advice to clients in India. In this case, expression FIFO will only cover casual visit not amounting to ‘practice’ or for purpose of giving legal advice to clients in India regarding foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse international legal issues. BCI or Central Government can make appropriate rules in this regard including extending the code of ethics being applicable to foreign lawyers and entities.
It also modified provisions of Advocates Act, 1961 for debarring foreign lawyers completely from conducting international commercial arbitration in country. Similarly, it held that BPO companies providing services like word processing, transcription services, secretarial support and proof-reading services do not come within purview of Advocates Act, so are allowed to function from India.
The Madras high court in 2012 had ordered to permit foreign lawyers and law firms to come to India on FIFO basis for rendering legal services here on offshore laws and diverse international legal issues. It had held that there is no bar on foreign lawyers, under Indian laws and regulations, visiting India for rendering legal advice to their clients in India. It was added that foreign lawyers could not be barred from coming to India for conducting arbitration proceedings in disputes involving international commercial arbitration. On similar lines, Bombay high court in 2009 had said that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers could not practise law in India either in the litigation or non-litigation side.