Foreign firms face Bahrain licence fight

Baker & McKenzie

, Norton Rose and Trowers & Hamlins have been embroiled in a licensing scandal in Bahrain following a revolt by the country’s domestic legal community.

The Bahrain Bar Association (BBA) and numerous individual lawyers have launched a lawsuit against the country’s Ministry of Industry & Commerce, the Bahrain Monetary Agency and the international law firms that operate in the country. The suit calls for the licences of Bakers, Norton Rose and Trowers to be revoked.

BBA president Abbas Hilal said: “Under the laws of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Ministry of Industry & Commerce and the Bahrain Monetary Agency cannot grant licences to the international law firms. Only the Ministry of Justice can do this, but it has not.

“They must get a Ministry of Justice licence, otherwise they are in an illegal situation. We have written to the Ministry of Industry & Commerce about this situation, but we have not been able to agree, so we file a suit.” At the time of going to press, the firms, which were licensed by the Ministry of Industry & Commerce, were yet to receive notification of the lawsuit. The firms have been operating with licences for several years – Norton Rose’s licence dates back to 1979.

Norton Rose Middle East head Stephen Parish said: “We are slightly bemused. We’ll obviously be checking our position, but as far as we’re concerned it’s a local political issue to be resolved by the Bahrain ministry.

“We’re totally unaware of any requirement to be licensed other than how we currently are, [but] we’re happy to be licensed by whoever.”

Parish said that the firm does not provide local law advice, but uses several Bahrain firms for this function.

Trowers issued a short statement saying that the matter was between the BBA and ministries, while Bakers declined to comment.

Trowers has three partners and six associates based in Bahrain. Bakers has two partners and three lawyers, while Norton Rose has one partner and nine associates in Bahrain.