CJI bats for opening up of legal services sector for foreign lawyers
By Team Legistify / 2017-07-13

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NEW DELHI: Amidst strong opposition from lawyers against opening up of legal services sector for foreign advocates, Chief Justice of India J S Khehar on Saturday batted for liberalization and global integration and said that the sector should not remain closed for foreign lawyers and they should be allowed to enter Indian market to provide their services.

Justice Khehar said that Indian lawyers were competent enough to compete with the foreign players and their apprehension that their jobs would be taken away was misplaced. He, however, said that foreign lawyers should be allowed to enter into Indian market only on reciprocal basis, means advocates of only those overseas countries which have allowed Indian lawyers to practice in their land be permitted.

"Competition will bring excellence in the profession. Indian lawyers are not less competent than foreign lawyers. So the apprehension that foreign lawyers would snatch business of India lawyers is not correct. In fact Indian lawyers are capable of snatching jobs of foreign lawyers. Bur reciprocity should be insisted in allowing foreign lawyers," the CJI said.

He was addressing a seminar organised by Indian branch of International Law Association. The CJI emphasised that opportunities for Indian lawyers would grow with liberalisation of the sector as they would be allowed to practise in foreign countries. "It is not that we will not not learn from them. International exchange of lawyers will in fact improve the system. It will bring competition and excellence and the issue should be debated," he said.

Agreeing with the CJI, Supreme Court judge A K Sikri said that the issue of liberalising legal services sector needed to examined particularly in present era of globalisation when national boundaries had been irrelevant for business and economic activities.

With India emerging as a top destination for multinational companies and corporate disputes on the rise, foreign law firms are eyeing to tap the Indian market and trying to impress upon the government to permit them to render legal services here. Some of the firms have approached the Supreme Court seeking its direction to Centre and Bar Council of India(BCI) to remove the restriction on their entry and allow them to practice in India. They challenged a Bombay High Court verdict of 2009 quashing the Reserve Bank of India's decision for allowing some foreign law firms to open liaison offices in the country.

They had contended that Indian lawyers were allowed to practice in other countries and there was no rationale to keep foreign law firms out of the country. "In this era of globalization, when all big investments are being made in the country by foreign companies, there seems to be no reason why law firms should not be allowed," the foreign law firms had told the court.

The issue of allowing foreign lawyer and law firm in India has been a contentious issue and the Centre is holding consultation with all stake holders including lawyers' bodies to liberalise the sector to protect the interests of Indian lawyers. BCI and Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) have also approved government's proposal "in principle" on a gradual opening up of the legal services sector to foreign players.

Source: Times of India

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