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Time for Indian, British lawyers to join hands

india Updated: May 02, 2007 18:12 IST
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Lawyers from India and Britain can join hands to compete for international contracts together, says Britain's Constitutional and Legal Affairs Minister, Catherine Ashton.

"If British and Indian legal firms partner, it will enable Indian and British lawyers to compete for international contracts together," Baroness Ashton, who is here to press for globalisation of legal services, told select journalists here Wednesday.

"Our ambition is to create partnerships with legal firms that will enable commercial work that is currently being done in London to be done outside in India. By working together, they can compete globally due to their common backgrounds and traditions," she said.

Ashton, who is in India on a 10-day visit, has met Law Minister H L Bhardwaj, Attorney General Milon Banerjee as well as representatives of the Bar Council of India (BCI) and Supreme Court Bar Association to discuss prospects of collaboration between Indian and British legal firms in this lucrative sector.

She said she was enthused by response to her proposal from the Indian government and premier bodies representing Indian lawyers.

"He (Bhardwaj) told me that both he and Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) recognise that it's a real opportunity for India."

Trying to allay concerns of the Indian legal community about British lawyers coming to India to practice in Indian courts, Ashton said the fears were unfounded as it was never on the agenda in the first place.

"It's not about our lawyers coming here to practice. It's about an opportunity for British and Indian lawyers to take on board some of the opportunities in the global economy that will come their way by working together," said Ashton, a former education minister and a life peer of the House of Lords.

"Currently, there are nine Indian legal firms in the UK. There should be a level playing field the other way also so that our lawyers are able to come to India and operate..."

Ashton hinted that leaders of the Indian legal community appeared to be shedding their opposition to the entry of foreign law firms in the country. She has invited representatives of the BCI to come to London in May-June for discussions on this issue.

The minister also sought to downplay complaints by Indian lawyers about difficulties in getting British visas.

"It's not a problem. There are several ways in which Indian lawyers can enter the UK market," she said. "In the future, there will be a simpler visa system to enable Indian legal firms to set up their operations in the UK."

Ashton will also travel to Chandigarh, Bangalore and Chennai and meet the legal community in these cities.

The legal services sector generates approximately £14.9 billion per annum in England and Wales, representing some 1.4 per cent of the gross domestic product.

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