Delhi HC Issues Notice to Bar Council of India and Central Govt In Plea Challenging Entry of Foreign Law Firms

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The plea filed by a group of practicing lawyers disputes the BCI's authority under the Advocates Act, 1961. They have argued that the BCI lacks the power to authorize foreign lawyers' registration and practice in non-litigious matters

The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) and the Central Government in a petition challenging the BCI's decision to permit the entry of foreign law firms in India.

The plea raises significant questions regarding the regulatory framework governing legal practice in the country.

A division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora issued notices to the BCI and the concerned government ministries after hearing arguments from both the petitioners and the bar body.

The court allowed the BCI four weeks to file its counter affidavit and scheduled the next hearing for April 24, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive examination of the matter.

The petitioners, represented by Advocates Narendra Sharma, Arvind Kumar Bajpai, and others, contested the BCI's decision, arguing that it exceeded the authority conferred by the Advocates Act of 1961. They highlighted that the BCI's notification, issued on March 10, 2023, allowing foreign lawyers to practice law in non-litigious matters, contravenes the Supreme Court's judgment in the Bar Council of India v. AK Balaji & Ors case.

According to the petitioners, the entry of foreign law firms poses a threat to the Indian legal profession's integrity and may compromise the principles of justice. They underscored the importance of upholding the Advocates Act and preserving the rights of Indian lawyers to practice law in the country.

Senior Advocate Rakesh Tiku, representing the petitioners, argued that the BCI's decision undermines the statutory framework governing legal practice and urged the court to uphold the principles enshrined in the Advocates Act. He submitted that the notification is in the teeth of the statute. 

On the contrary, Advocate Preet Pal Singh, representing the BCI, defended the notification, stating that it clearly outlines the permissible activities for foreign law firms in India.

However, the court questioned how the BCI could circumvent the Supreme Court's ruling in the AK Balaji case.

The petition contends that the legal profession should not succumb to foreign market forces, and BCI's move disregards the principle of reciprocity with other countries. It highlights opposition from various legal bodies, asserting that such a move harms young lawyers by diminishing competitive norms established under Indian competition law.

The plea states, “Obviously, the Bar Council of India takes care about the interests of the entire fraternity; however, in the present circumstances, the issuance of the impugned notification clearly reflects their mindset, which would definitely going to harm the interests of young lawyers or the advocates who would not be able to compete establishment of foreign lawyers; hence, it violates the competitive norms established under the competition law of India.”

On March 13, 2023, the BCI notified in the official gazette the Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022. Although they cannot appear in court, they can advise clients on foreign law and work on corporate transactions.

The BCI had said it “resolved to implement these rules, enabling the foreign lawyers and Foreign Law Firms to practise foreign law and diverse international law and international arbitration matters in India on the principle of reciprocity in a well defined, regulated and controlled manner”.

Case Title: Narendra Sharma and Ors. v. Bar Council of India and Ors.