The Supreme Court today ruled that foreign law firms cannot practice in India, but allowed international lawyers to “fly in and fly out” to provide legal advice to their clients in India. The Apex Court also held that the foreign lawyers can appear in International Commercial Arbitration (ICA) subject to relevant institutional framework and rules. The Court through this judgment, partially upheld the 2012 judgment of the Madras High Court holding that foreign lawyers could visit India for a temporary period for the purpose of giving legal advice.
While hearing the matter, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel opined that, “Fly in and fly out would cover a casual visit and not amount to practice.” This implies that foreign lawyers may fly in and out to advise on international law aspects in cases where they are involved, but they cannot practice full-time. Along with this, the judges also observed that foreign lawyers could not be barred from coming to India for conducting arbitration proceedings in disputes involving international commercial arbitration but they would be subject to the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India. The court has additionally added that, the Bar Council of India has the powers to frame rules and regulate the conduct of foreign lawyers in this regard and rules may be framed keeping these directions in mind. This ruling directly affects the current position of foreign law firms operating in India.
The written copy of the judgement is still to be released.