Foreign lawyers in India cannot advise clients on any matters of Indian law, the Mumbai High Court ruled yesterday.

The court confirmed that legal advice outside of litigation practice is covered by the ban on foreign lawyers set down in the 1961 Advocates Act.

A coalition of Indian lawyers launched a court action after City firm Ashurst and US firms Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case were granted licences by the Reserve Bank of India to run liaison offices in the country.

But yesterday’s ruling in Lawyers Collective v Union of India, White & Case, Chadbourne & Parke, Ashurst et al confirmed an interim judgment in 1995 that these licences should not have been granted. Both US firms left the country after the 1995 ruling, while Ashurst retained its New Delhi office.

A number of UK firms have set up alliance or ‘best friend’ offices in the country over the last few years. The Indian government continues to deliberate over whether to legislate to allow foreign law firms to practice in the country.