The Big Four professional services firms’ expansion into legal services has hit a roadblock in India following an order imposing a temporary ban on their practising law in the country.

An interim order, seen by the Gazette, was handed down last week by the Bar Council of Delhi. Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC are not to engage in any practice of law until further orders. The firms have also been told to provide lists of all their lawyers ahead of another hearing on 12 July.

The council’s ruling follows a complaint by Lalit Bhasin, president of the Society of Indian Law Firms. The complaint, first filed in 2015, claimed that the quartet’s activities contravened the 1961 Advocates Act. Under the act audit firms and accountants are not permitted to offer legal services. 

The Bar Council is required to discharge statutory duties under the 1961 act. Accountants are governed by the Chartered Accountants Act 1949. Although there have been proposals to amend the Advocates Act to enable audit firms to offer legal services, this has not been approved.

The Gazette contacted each of the Big Four’s Indian offices for comment. PwC declined to comment. A spokesperson for KPMG said the allegations are ’completely baseless’ while EY said it denied the allegations and will strongly defend them.

KPMG and Deloitte have both responded in writing to the Bar Council’s order. 

KPMG’s response, seen by the Gazette, reiterated the response it sent in 2015. It said it ‘does not represent or hold itself out to be a legal firm, a firm of lawyers, or legal experts nor is it engaged in the practise of law'.

Deloitte’s response, filed under the name Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India, stressed that it ‘is not a firm of advocates’, adding: ‘None of our employees are enrolled on the rolls of the Bar Council of Delhi or any other bar council’. It added that it should not be subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Bar Council.

PwC has requested six weeks within which to reply to the Bar Council. EY has requested four weeks.