Panel on arbitration recommends letting in foreign lawyers, secret proceedings | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Panel on arbitration recommends letting in foreign lawyers, secret proceedings

The move could once again trigger a backlash from the bar, which remains strongly opposed to the idea of allowing foreign law firms or lawyers to practise in the country.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2017 10:26 IST
Jatin Gandhi
The government wants arbitration to become the first resort of dispute resolution to clear the backlog of cases in Indian courts.
The government wants arbitration to become the first resort of dispute resolution to clear the backlog of cases in Indian courts.(File)

The high-powered committee headed by justice BN Srikrishna that submitted its report to the law ministry last week has recommended sweeping changes to the arbitration regime in India, including amending laws to allow foreign lawyers to represent clients in international arbitration proceedings held in the country.

The move could once again trigger a backlash from the bar, which remains strongly opposed to the idea of allowing foreign law firms or lawyers to practise in the country.

Bar associations and councils in different states, led by the Bar Council of India, went on strike in April this year and burnt copies of a law commission report that suggested diluting the powers of the BCI over disciplinary matters concerning advocates.

Last year, the BCI walked out of deliberations started by the government to allow entry to foreign law firms.

The report was submitted to Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last Thursday.

While the government has refrained from taking immediate action on it since Parliament is in session, Prasad described it as a “very good report.” While he refused to comment on the recommendations, the minister said the government will take a considered and “structured view.”

The move to revamp the arbitration framework in India is a focus area for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wants India to become an international arbitration hub in place of Singapore. The government wants arbitration to become the first resort of dispute resolution to clear the backlog of cases in Indian courts – which currently stands at 3.15 crore.

The committee included two former Supreme Court judges, attorney general KK Venugopal and law secretary Suresh Chandra, apart from legal luminaries from the field.

The committee has suggested a number of changes in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, including inserting a confidentiality clause that will keep proceedings secret.

“Confidentiality is the norm and specifically mentioned in the statutes world over. In India, the ACA does not specify confidentiality and we have recommended an amendment to do so … It will inspire confidence in international clients choosing India for arbitral proceedings,” a member of the committee told the Hindustan Times while explaining the rationale behind the suggestion.

A suggestion includes introducing a qualifying exam on the lines of the bar exam to permit lawyers to represent clients in arbitral proceedings. The committee has suggested India should have specialised bar and benches for arbitration.

The BCI conducts an all India bar examination, which is mandatory for lawyers to clear before they can start practice. But, the exam is caught in a legal tangle with the Supreme Court hearing a case on its legal validity.

The committee has also recommended that the government should take over the International Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution under the top court by bringing in a law and rebrand it as India Arbitration Centre after revamping it.

The government and the judiciary have been involved in a turf battle since the court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Law in October 2015.