After over 20 years of stalled initiatives, a memorandum of understanding on liberalising India’s legal services market is in preparation following a change in position by the country’s bar council.
Talks on liberalisation have progressed from ‘theoretical to more detailed’ discussions, a source close to the negotiations said.
The development coincided with an official visit to the UK by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (pictured). The UK was expected to sign trade agreements worth billions of pounds during Modi’s visit.
The Law Society, Bar Council of England and Wales and the Bar Council of India are drawing up the memorandum of understanding, which Stephen Denyer, head of city and international at the Society, described as a ‘very significant step’ towards opening up the Indian market.
The Bar Council of India dropped its long-standing opposition to liberalising the market a few months ago, removing one of the main obstacles to a deal.
Denyer said there is ‘a lot of optimism’ on both sides that a satisfactory memorandum could be agreed within a few months. Although the memorandum was just a first step, there is a ‘strong commitment on both sides to proceed in this direction’, he added.
PK Malhotra, secretary at the Ministry of Law and Justice in India, told an event at Chancery Lane that liberalisation is now only a question of timing, though ‘certain issues’ still need to be addressed.
The Gazette understands that one sticking point is the UK’s immigration policy, which restricts Indian lawyers’ entry to the UK.
Malhotra said: ‘We have been working on this since 1992. But I think now a stage has come where there is a consensus across all participants. There is no way we can look back. We have to look forward.’
On timing he said: ‘It may be a question of a few days or a few months but I can’t make any commitment. The Indian bar council is now on board but they have to get the confidence of their own counterparts. This may take some time.’
Sarosh Zaiwalla, senior partner at City firm Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors and the first Indian to set up a firm in the City, said the market could open up within the next six to 12 months.
He said once the market has been liberalised there will be ‘enormous opportunities’ for international firms in infrastructure investments and joint ventures in India. Zaiwalla said UK lawyers could soon be in a position to benefit from the huge amount of work generated.