Justice minister Shailesh Vara has said the long-awaited liberalisation of the Indian legal market is now a matter of ‘when, not if’.

Vara told an audience of UK and Indian lawyers at The Law Society yesterday that the country’s leaders are now committed to opening up the market and inviting UK firms to practise and form partnerships – possibly within five years.

The issue of the closed Indian legal market has confounded the UK legal profession for decades, but Vara said opposition is disappearing as the sector and its young new entrants seek to broaden horizons.

‘I take particular heart that at the highest levels of [Indian] government this is now being addressed,’ said Vara, who led a delegation to India last year to try to persuade the market to open.

‘Your leaders are speaking not only speaking of liberalisation but are putting a timeframe on it.

‘In the 1990s when I practised in the City we were trying to persuade the Indian government to liberalise the sector – that debate is continuing but we have come a long way.’

Speaking at the Law Society’s UK-India legal practice conference 2015, Vara said he understood the fears of some members of the Indian profession but stressed they were ‘unfounded’.

UK lawyers were not seeking to practise Indian law or to become advocates in Indian courts, he said. 

The small number of Indian lawyers who do international commercial work will feel a ‘positive impact’, he said, with the chance to work alongside people from other countries.

Vara said his trip to India had seen him receive a ‘receptive’ welcome from the domestic legal market.

‘Unlike before when there was an absolute ‘no’ [to liberalisation], this time there was a sense of ‘actually this may benefit India’,’ he said. ‘There were some who were against it but who said the tide was against them and [saw] the way forward was liberalisation.’

The minister, formerly a solicitor at CMS Cameron McKenna, recounted that on his trip he met commercial clients from India prepared to travel across the world – and pay the extra fees – to receive advice from English firms.

‘One of the extra things I learned in India was, when visiting universities and law schools, the new generation of Indian lawyers are internationalists in their outlook. They want international experience and to work abroad, but critically many want to work with Indian firms who have strong associations with overseas firms.’