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Ayush Singh, B.A. LL.B (H)
Chief Justice of India JS Khehar on 8th July supported entry of foreign lawyers into the Indian legal sector but said there should be on the basis of “reciprocity” between their countries.
Opening up India’s legal field to foreign players would improve the system and Indian lawyers should have no apprehensions that they would take away their business, he said.
“I feel international exchange of lawyers will improve the system. If anybody thinks foreign lawyers will come to India and snatch our professional positions and substitute us, it’s not correct. Indian lawyers are no less than those across the world.”
“But reciprocity has to be insisted upon,” added Chief Justice Khehar while inaugurating an All India Seminar of the International Law Association.
He said the Indian legal profession had grown over a short period of less than 70 years “to possibly become the world’s largest and most influential in the matter of governance”.
“With the advent of globalisation, the legal profession in India has undergone a major shift during the last two decades. Economic liberalisation has given an opportunity of constant interaction with foreign law firms and an international clientele. As a result, there has been a transfer of knowledge, systems and practices to Indian law firms, such that they are able to undertake a much larger role in cross-border transactions,” he said.
The CJI said that though The Advocates Act, 1961, does not permit foreign lawyers to practice law in India, but the Act acknowledges that if some country permits Indian lawyers to practice in its jurisdiction, then lawyers from that country can be granted reciprocal privileges in India.
He noted that while the Bar Council of India had been opposing the entry of foreign lawyers into Indian legal system, now the body and the Society of Indian Law Firms have agreed “in principle” with the government’s proposal to gradually open up the legal sector to foreign players, but insist, that this should be on a reciprocal basis.
India has close to 1.2 million lawyers, whose professional conduct is regulated by the Bar Council of India and the state Bar Councils.
Chief Justice Khehar also expressed concern over the future of children and their rights in the bad marriages abroad and the challenges before Indian judiciary to handle such cases.
He said “child right is vital” and there has to be a concrete legislation on this issue.
Justice Khehar supported the claim that India should ratify the Hague Convention which deals with the issue of child custody of the parents living abroad following a matrimonial discord.
Even as the central government is yet to take a stand on entry of foreign law firms and lawyers in India, the Bar Council of India (BCI) — the top body tasked with regulating the legal practice in the country is opposing the entry of foreign lawyers and their firms to advise clients or participate in arbitration proceedings or as BPOs and LPOs (legal process outsourcing companies), the BCI has claimed that the legal practice would also include participation in seminars and conferences.
The BCI is of the opinion that the entire intention as to permit only qualified lawyers to practice law in India is because the Indian laws are of specialised nature and that in such circumstances, only those who have complete and overall idea of its functioning, are permitted to practice law by it. Bar Council of India relies upon a 2009 ruling by the Bombay High Court that prohibited a bunch of foreign law firms from having representative offices in India.