Mauritius gives green light to foreign law firm access plans

Global ambitions see foreign firms able to form joint ventures and partnerships with local players

The government of Mauritius is finalising legislation that will allow foreign law firms to access the local market through joint ventures or partnerships with domestic firms. Ministers expect the reforms to come into force within the next six months.

According to Attorney General and Justice Minister Emmanuel Leung Shing, who is in charge of finalising the legislation and steering it through parliament, the reform will boost the global standing of the Indian Ocean island nation and add to its attractions as an international financial centre.

“The benefits for Mauritius of having international law firms will include obtaining more international exposure and giving local people more international experience,” Shing told The Lawyer.

Up to now, UK legal practitioners have been able to offer their services in Mauritius on an individual basis, but outside law firms have been denied access, according to Sushil Khushiram, the country’s minister of economic development, financial services and corporate affairs.

“The legislation has been prepared by a former chief justice,” Khushiram said at a seminar in London last month. He said the measure has been approved in principle by the cabinet and will go before parliament once the Attorney General has “put the final touches to it”.

“It should be through in a maximum of six months,” added Khushiram. “It creates a legal vehicle called a law corporation, which can be either a company or a société, that brings together a barrister, a notary and a solicitor to provide legal services.
“This offers for the first time a vehicle with which foreign legal firms can either enter into a shareholding agreement, a joint venture or a partnership to also provide legal services in Mauritius.”

Khushiram declined to identify any international legal firms that might be contemplating entering the Mauritius market, but said: “We have no doubt they will come. We have had indications of interest.”

Legal professionals in Mauritius are confident that the reforms will benefit rather than hurt them, according to Iqbal Rajabalee, a leading member of the ministerial committee that drew up proposals for the legislation.

The committee, which was set up in late 2003, also included the chairman of the country’s Law Society and Bar Council.

Rajabalee, who was a partner at leading firm Collendavelloo Chambers before he became chief executive of the Mauritius Financial Services Commission, told The Lawyer: “It will add a lot of lustre to Mauritius to accommodate international law firms. It will give comfort to users of legal services in the international business sector. The domestic legal profession is up to international standards of expertise, but practitioners and firms are not widely known abroad. Companies that are used to dealing with City law firms will still be able to go to them for advice.”

Rajabalee added: “I don’t think there will be any conflict with local barristers. In fact, there will be cross-fertilisation that will increase the expertise of local practitioners in global financial business. We’ll see the contribution that international firms can bring in the cross-border sector.”