Nearly six years after the Madras high court writ petition against 31 international law firms wound its way to the Supreme Court of India, the case may be entering its last leg after hearings of final arguments began earlier this month.
Submissions were made at a hearing last week by the Bar Council of India (BCI) - which has mostly opposed the entry of foreign law firms to India — and the government of India, whose ministries have been pushing hard to open up the legal market in the face of opposition from a handful of stakeholders.
Arguing on behalf of the Bar Council, senior counsel CU Singh said that any entry of foreign lawyers into India must be strictly regulated.
The Indian government’s lawyer, Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, was more assertive: ‘We want foreign lawyers to come so as to not deny the Indian advocates of the same privilege in other countries,’ he told the court. ‘If the BCI does not frame the rules, the central government would take it upon itself to stipulate the rules.’
There will be at least two more hearings in the case, with foreign law firms’ counsel and other parties still set to argue, according to Supreme Court advocate Pradhuman Gohil, president of the Global Indian Lawyers Association. The association joined the Supreme Court case in 2015 to ensure Indian lawyers’ rights to practise abroad would not be ignored by the highest court.
The next Supreme Court hearing is currently scheduled for 23 January, said Gohil, although that will depend on availability of the presiding judges – justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and UU Lalit. Goel is due to retire on 6 July 2018 – which puts a hard-stop date for the judges to rule on the matter.