|India categorical that foreign law firms should not be allowed to practice in courts|
London: Even as a delegation of the All-India Bar Association and the Indian Council of Jurists on a visit to the United Kingdom was categorical that foreign law firms should not be allowed to practice in Indian courts, the British authorities pleaded for allowing foreign law firms to operate in India only to do transactional work and to tender financial advice to potential investors.
The visit to London and other places at the invitation of the Law Society of England and Wales was to explore the possibilities of allowing entry of foreign law firms into India in the light of strong opposition from the Indian bar for granting any such permission.
During a reception given by the British Minister of State for Legal Affairs Baroness Ashton, the leader of the delegation and Chairman of AIBA, Adish Aggarwala, told her that Indian lawyers would not permit their foreign counterparts to practise in Indian courts.
Responding to the opposition of Indian Bar leaders, the British Minister made a categorical statement that the U.K. lawyers were not interested in practising Indian law in Indian courts. She was unequivocal in saying that the law firms in the U.K. were only interested in doing transactional work with the objective of facilitating foreign investment in India and to advise the foreign investors.
Mr. Adish C. Aggarwala, while welcoming such a stand, made it clear to the Minister that it was up to the Union Government and the Bar Council of India, the apex statutory body of lawyers, to take a decision in this regard. He said that in the event of the Government of India permitting British law firms to open their offices in India for facilitating investments, then Indian lawyers should also be allowed to do similar work in the U.K. on a reciprocal basis and that the British Government should give unrestricted business/work visa to the Indian legal community.
Echoing the stand of the Law Minister, president of the Law Society Fiona Woolf said that in a liberalised legal framework, services of foreign legal professionals would be of immense benefit to both the countries. Allaying the apprehensions of Indian lawyers, she said the law firms in the U.K. were not interested in advocacy work, viz. appearing in Indian courts. She said: "We are interested in doing documentation works for corporate clients willing to invest in India; to do arbitration work in commercial disputes and to provide financial and banking services. We are not asking for any fast track entry into India as we permit you [Indian lawyers] here by opening offices in India."
She said the British law firms would bring the necessary expertise and "Indian lawyers would be able to acquire the know-how and would become potential competitors ... we have made things easy for others by allowing lawyers from different countries to set up law firms here. We don't mind if you [India] make things difficult for us."
M.N. Krishnamani president, Supreme Court Bar Association, who was a special invitee; S. Prabakaran vice-chairman, AIBA, explained the consistent stand of the Indian bar not to allow foreign law firms to enter India in any manner. Mr. Krishnamani told British counterparts that the Indian Bar could not agree to foreign lawyers practising in India.
On other issues like setting up of offices by foreign lawyers for their own clients, he said the Indian Bar had to deeply consider the consequences and implications and then decide as to whether or not and in what way they should agree to the demand to permit foreign law firms to enter India.
Mr. Prabakaran made it clear that the entry of foreign law firms to India would affect Indian lawyers to a great extent.
He pointed out that nearly 95 per cent of the legal fraternity in India were individual practitioners and there were very few law firms. In the U.K., legal services were operated more or less as a business proposition but in India the legal profession was termed a noble profession intended to render assistance to courts in dispensation of justice.
Dr. Anmol Rattan Sidhu, vice-chairman, AIBA; C. L. Pandey, president, Allahabad High Court Bar Association, and Satish Aggarwal, general secretary, Indian Council of Jurists, were among those who explained the view points of the various bar associations.
Use of legal diplomacy
The delegation visited different courts including the House of Lords and prestigious Law colleges and had discussions with eminent solicitors and barristers on various issues of mutual interest between India and the United Kingdom.
The interactions gave an impression that the big law firms were using legal diplomacy to set their foot in the Indian soil, whatever might be the nomenclature to be used for their entry.
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