AK Balaji: SC issues notice on SLP filed by BCI; Directs RBI to refrain from granting permission to foreign law firms

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The Supreme Court has issued notice on the Special Leave Petition filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) against the decision of the Madras High Court in AK Balaji’s case. The Apex Court also directed the RBI to refrain from granting any permission to “the foreign law firms to open liaison offices in India under Section 29 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act,1973”.
Leaving little room for ambiguity, the Court further stated that the expression “to practice the profession of law” under Section 29 of the Advocates Act, 1961 “covers persons practicing litigious matters as well as non-litigious matters matters other than contemplated in para 63(ii) ofthe impugned order and, therefore, to practice innon-litigious matters in India the foreign law firms, by whatever name called or described, shall be bound to follow the provisions contained in the Advocates Act..”
It may be remembered that in para 63(ii) of its judgement, the Madras High Court had held that:
“(ii) However, there is no bar either in the Act or the Rules for the foreign law firms or foreign lawyers to visit India for a temporary period on a fly in and fly out basis, for the purpose of giving legal advise to their clients in India regarding foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse international legal issues.”

The Respondents have been granted ten weeks time to file their replies.
The BCI was represented by Senior Advocate NM Krishnamani along with Senior Advocate and BCI Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra while a battery of Senior Counsels appeared for the Respondents.
Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, on instructions from Dua Associates, represented White & Case and Covington & Burling.
Senior Counsel  Mukul Rohatgi on instructions from EC Agarwala represented Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Eversheds, Bird and Bird, Linklaters and Clyde & Co.
Senior Advocate Nageshwar Rao, on instructions from Trilegal, appeared for Allen & Overy.
As reported by Bar & Bench in April this year, the BCI had chosen to appeal against the decision of the Madras High Court in AK Balaji v  Union of India dated February 21, 2012. A copy of the petition may be read here.

The Madras High Court, in its judgment dated February 21, 2012, had held that foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practice the profession of law in India either on the litigation or non-litigation side,