Lawyers in the oil-rich Kurdistan region of Iraq are threatening court action against English solicitors who they accuse of practising in the country without a licence. ‘Our members, 9,000 lawyers, have asked us to stop the flood of foreign lawyers,’
Wrya Saadi Ahmed (pictured), president of the Kurdish Bar Association, told the Gazette. ‘Foreign lawyers have contracted billions of dollars worth of business with oil companies.’
Ahmed declined to name any firms involved. The Gazette understands that the main concern is with in-house counsel at major oil companies drawing up contracts with only token involvement of local professionals. ‘Of course we have no objections if foreign companies have lawyers, but we object if they practise here,’ Ahmed said.
The Kurdish Regional Government is a largely self-governing region of northern Iraq. Because of its potential oil wealth and comparative stability it is a magnet for inward investment, led by Turkey.
Ahmed cited article 5 of Iraq’s Legal Practice Law of 1999, which grants foreign lawyers the right to practise in the country only if reciprocal arrangements exist. He admitted that no jurisdiction in the world falls in to this category. ‘We are now in the process of writing a petition to the court to demand cessation.’
However, he said that his association is also making moves to persuade the Kurdish parliament to amend the law to allow foreign law firms to form partnerships with local counterparts provided that such ventures were 51% locally owned.
George Booth, partner at international firm Clyde & Co, which does business throughout Iraq, said firms should be aware of the need to work through local partners. ‘As the Iraqi legal profession matures it is becoming more of an issue.’
The UK consul general in Kurdistan, Hugh Evans, said that he had received no formal complaint.