Foreign lawyers cannot practise in India, either in court or outside, ruled the Bombay High Court on Wednesday.
This means they can neither plead a case in court nor set up law firms.
The foreign lawyers’ position was that they could ply their trade outside courts. Their Indian counterparts contested this stand.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice J.P. Devadhar upheld the position of the Indian side.
The high court cancelled the licences obtained by three foreign law firms from the Reserve Bank of India for opening liaison offices in the country.
Between 1993 and 1995, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had granted these licences to New York-based White and Case and Cadborune and Parke, and London-based Ashurst Morris Crisp.
Lawyers Collective, a society representing lawyers and law students across India, had challenged the apex bank’s decision before the high court.
Senior lawyer C.U. Singh, appearing for the petitioner, contended that the RBI had overstepped the limits of the law by giving licences because enrollment (registration) under the Advocates Act, 1961, was mandatory for practising the legal profession in India and even giving legal advice outside court was covered by the Act.
White and Case’s lawyer Navroj Seervai, however, contended that the restriction applied to matters of dispute in court, and the provision would not cover those practising the legal profession outside the high courts and the Supreme Court.
The bench said: “The mandatory enrolment (of lawyers under the law) equally applies to practice in non-litigious matters and before any courts as well.”