India liberalisation blow as foreign firms lose landmark case

Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case have lost their long-running case in India against the Lawyers’ Collective, website legallyindia.com reports.

In the Bombay High Court today the practice of all law by foreign firms in India has been ruled illegal.

The judgement and reasoning of the court has not yet been published but lawyers for both sides have confirmed the decision.

FoxMandal Little Mumbai litigation partner Guruprasad Pal, who represented White & Case in the matter, said: “We do not have the copy of the judgement but the court pronounced that the petition has been allowed. It’s a victory for the Lawyers’ Collective.”

Senior advocate CU Singh, who appeared on behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective also confirmed the judgement.

He was arguing in the Delhi Supreme Court today and was not present at the judgement but he was lead counsel on the case throughout and suggested several reasons for the court’s decision.

“Apparently they’ve allowed the petition,” said Singh, “so they’ve held that the permissions which have been granted by Reserve Bank of India to run liaison offices [by foreign firms] were illegal and those permissions have been quashed.”

“They also held that the practice of law under the Advocates Act in India encompasses all forms of practice, not just litigation practice in court but also corporate practice, advisory practice, M&A and the whole works,” he added.

“One of the main arguments of foreign law firms was that the Advocates Act covers only litigation practice in court but not advisory work pertaining to foreign law in India,” explained Singh.

An Ashurst spokesperson confirmed that the Bombay High Court had handed down its verdict today but added: “We haven’t received the judgement yet and we will examine the details when we do.”

The case against the foreign firms has been running since 1995, after Ashurst, Chadbourne & Parke and White & Case opened up liaison office in India but were accused by contravening the Advocates Act by practising law in India.