The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that foreign lawyers and firms cannot practice law in India. Neither can they get involved in non-litigation works like consultancy, the top court ruled. A bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit relied upon the scheme in Chapter-IV of the Advocates Act to rule that advocates enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law. "Regulatory mechanism for the conduct of advocates applies to non-litigation work also.
The prohibition applies to any person in India, other than an advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, and certainly applies to any foreigner also," the bench said. The court, however, said foreign lawyers may not be debarred from conducting arbitration proceedings arising out of international commercial arbitration if rules permitted. "It is not possible to hold that there is absolutely no bar to a foreign lawyer for conducting arbitrations in India," the court said.
The court said practising law included not only appearance in courts but also giving of opinion, drafting of instruments and participation in conferences involving legal discussion. "These are parts of non-litigation practice which is part of the practice of law," the court said. On foreign law firms, the bench said, "We do not find any merit in the contention that the Advocates Act does not deal with companies or firms and only individuals.