Law Society, Bar Council strike Indian accord

Memorandum of Understanding signed with Bar Council of India as India opens to international lawyers amid mounting domestic opposition

Law Society president Lubna Shuja Image courtesy of the Law Society

The Law Society of England and Wales, the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Bar Council of India (BCI) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), building on previously announced plans to open up India’s legal services sector to foreign lawyers. 

The MoU sets out a framework for the practice of home jurisdiction law by English and Welsh lawyers and law firms in India, on the basis of reciprocity, following reforms to India’s regulations announced in March that will allow international law firms and counsel to practise foreign law in India. 

Included in the MoU are plans for an exchange programme of lawyers and law students for training and learning in each other’s jurisdictions, similar to the long-running Anglo-Dutch Exchange, which resumed this year, and past programs held with South Korean and Chinese lawyers.

The signature of the MoU was marked by a rare presidential dinner at Chancery Lane hosted by Law Society president, Lubna Shuja, in the presence of the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk MP, Lord Justice Rabinder Singh and the BCI delegation.

Shuja, the first Muslim and first Asian woman to hold the role, said: “We are delighted to have signed the MoU with the BCI.”

“The BCI’s decision is a significant step forward in this much anticipated development and will create huge opportunities for solicitors and Indian advocates in both countries. It will also give a boost to India’s wider economic ambitions.”

Nick Vineall KC, chair of the Bar of England and Wales, added: “We very warmly welcome the signing of the MoU and see it as the first step in a process, and an important step in the right direction.”

He added that he hoped that clarification of ‘fly in, fly out’ rights would give barristers more opportunities to work with Indian legal colleagues in international arbitrations. 

Vineall subsequently met his Indian opposite number for discussions between both bodies focused on taking the MoU forward, as well as regulatory frameworks and practice rights.

The MoU occurred as senior judicial figures flew to London to address a variety of audiences on topics of mutual interest, including the Chief Justice of India, the Honourable D Y Chandrachud, who addressed an audience of lawyers on the digitisation of courts in India and what steps are being taken to make justice accessible in India.

Other judges visiting London included Justice Ms. Hima Kohli of the Supreme Court of India, who shared her perspective on the future direction of Indian courts with Chancery judge, Mr Justice Knowles, at a two-day conference.

Justice Kohli said that the decision of the BCI would create opportunities for young talent in India. She told the audience: "With the largest number of English speaking, common law educated lawyers worldwide, India is an attractive destination for legal professionals and businesses." 

However, opposition to the reforms domestically seems to be mounting. The Bar Council of Delhi issued an interim report which suggested the reforms would harm the Indian legal profession, particularly Indian advocates.

The report called on the BCI to stay implementation of those rules, noting that foreign law firms would be governed by the laws applicable in their country, which allow greater freedom for marketing and advertising. Lalit Bhasin, the president of the Society of Indian Law Firms, who said in March that the interests of Indian firms should be safeguarded, refused to rule out the option of litigating against the rules, saying that a decision on that would be taken based on the BCI's response.


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