Foreign law firms, lawyers/companies cannot practice law in India-Fly in and fly out cover casual visit only-SC

Foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers cannot practice profession of law in India either in the litigation or in nonlitigation side. “fly in and fly out” will only cover a casual visit not amounting to “practice”

ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 2245 (2018) (03) SC

The issue involved in the instant batch of civil appeals was whether foreign law firms lawyers are permitted to practice in India. The Bar Council of India and Global Indian Lawyers had filed appeal against the decision of Madras High Court and Bombay High Court respectively.

According to the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the questions for consideration mainly arised out of directions of the Madras High Court viz. :

(i) Whether the expression ‘practise the profession of law’ includes only litigation practice or non-litigation practice also;

(ii) Whether such practice by foreign law firms or foreign lawyers is permissible without fulfilling the requirements of Advocates Act and the Bar Council of India Rules;

(iii) If not, whether there is a bar for the said law firms or lawyers to visit India on ‘fly in and fly out’ basis for giving legal advice regarding foreign law on diverse international legal issues;

Foreign law firms, lawyers/companies cannot practice law in India

(iv) Whether there is no bar to foreign law firms and lawyers from conducting arbitration proceedings and disputes arising out of contracts relating to international commercial arbitration;

(v) Whether BPO companies providing integrated services are not covered by the Advocates Act or the Bar Council of India rules.

The observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court were as under:

(i) Ethics of the legal profession apply not only when an advocate appears before the Court. The same also apply to regulate practice outside the Court. Adhering to such Ethics is integral to the administration of justice. The professional standards laid down from time to time are required to be followed. Thus, we uphold the view that practice of law includes litigation as well as non litigation.

(ii) Practicing of law includes not only appearance in courts but also giving of opinion, drafting of instruments, participation in conferences involving legal discussion. These are parts of non-litigation practice which is part of practice of law. Scheme in Chapter-IV of the Advocates Act makes it clear that advocates enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law, except as otherwise provided in any other law. All others can appear only with the permission of the court, authority or person before whom the proceedings are pending. Regulatory mechanism for conduct of advocates applies to non-litigation work also. The prohibition applicable to any person in India, other than advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, certainly applies to any foreigner also.

(iii) Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly in and fly out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis. A casual visit for giving advice may not be covered by the expression ‘practice’. Whether a particular visit is casual or frequent so as to amount to practice is a question of fact to be determined from situation to situation. Bar Council of India or Union of India are at liberty to make appropriate rules in this regard. We may, however, make it clear that the contention that the Advocates Act applies only if a person is practicing Indian law cannot be accepted. Conversely, plea that a foreign lawyer is entitled to practice foreign law in India without subjecting himself to the regulatory mechanism of the Bar Council of India Rules can also be not accepted. We do not find any merit in the contention that the Advocates Act does not deal with companies or firms and only individuals. If prohibition applies to an individual, it equally applies to group of individuals or juridical persons.

(iv) It is not possible to hold that there is absolutely no bar to a foreign lawyer for conducting arbitrations in India. If the matter is governed by particular rules of an institution or if the matter otherwise falls under Section 32 or 33, there is no bar to conduct such proceedings in prescribed manner. If the matter is governed by an international commercial arbitration agreement, conduct of proceedings may fall under Section 32 or 33 read with the provisions of the Arbitration Act. Even in such cases, Code of Conduct, if any, applicable to the legal profession in India has to be followed. It is for the Bar Council of India or Central Government to make a specific provision in this regard, if considered appropriate.

(v) The BPO companies providing range of customized and integrated services and functions to its customers may not violate the provisions of the Advocates Act, only if the activities in pith and substance do not amount to practice of law. The manner in which they are styled may not be conclusive. As already explained, if their services do not directly or indirectly amount to practice of law, the Advocates Act may not apply. This is a matter which may have to be dealt with on case to case basis having regard to a fact situation.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the view of the Bombay High Court and Madras High Court to the effect that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers cannot practice profession of law in India either in the litigation or in non litigation side. The Hon’ble Supreme Court however, modified the direction of the Madras High Court that there was no bar for the foreign law firms or foreign lawyers to visit India for a temporary period on a “fly in and fly out” basis for the purpose of giving legal advice to their clients in India regarding foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse international legal issues.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the expression “fly in and fly out” will only cover a casual visit not amounting to “practice”. In case of a dispute whether a foreign lawyer was limiting himself to “fly in and fly out” on casual basis for the purpose of giving legal advice to their clients in India regarding

foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse international legal issues or whether in substance he was doing practice which is prohibited can be determined by the Bar Council of India. However, the Bar Council of India or Union of India will be at liberty to make appropriate Rules in this regard including extending Code of Ethics being applicable even to such cases.

Foreign law firms, lawyers/companies cannot practice law in India

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