In a historic decision, the Bar Council of India allowed entry of foreign law firms into India for the first time. The decision released in New Delhi on 13 March 2023 will allow registered solicitors and foreign lawyers to provide legal advice and represent clients based outside of India in international arbitration in India. A copy of the announcement is available in pdf format (here).
Up until the decision, foreign lawyers could only advise in India on a “fly in fly out” basis, but not permanently due to the restrictions imposed on foreign lawyers and law firms. For years law firms in England and Wales have attempted to do business in India but the market has been largely closed to them, resulting in UK firms with a presence there having to say that they ran an “Indian Desk” with the majority of work for high-value India related work being conducted in Dubai or Singapore, rather than being fully fledged in India. Previously, India followed a restrictive policy regime in its legal services sector and the entry of foreign law firms is prohibited.
This prohibition was despite the Law Society of England and Wale’s repeated requests for India to open up to the UK. Following the lifting of restrictions by the Bar Council of India, the Law Society of England and Wales president Lubna Shuja said: “The Bar Council of India’s decision is a significant step forward in this long-standing issue and will create huge opportunities for solicitors and Indian advocates in both countries.”**
What the changes mean for solicitors and firms
The new rules will include allowing registered solicitors and other foreign lawyers to:
- provide legal advice on home country law (English and Welsh law) and international law in non-contentious matters
- represent clients based outside of India in international arbitration matters in India.
They will also include allowing registered law firms to:
- open offices in India to provide the services above, and
- “procure the legal expertise/advice of any Advocate enrolled with any State Bar Council in India on any subject relating to Indian Laws”.
For those lawyers that do not register with the Bar Council of India (there is a hefty fee to do so), the restrictions have been eased and so such individuals will be able to advice in India on a “fly in fly out” basis for up to 60 days in a year.
(For more details, see chapter IV on page 21 of the rules, below in pdf).
The Law Society are currently in discussions about reciprocity and how England and Wales can accomodate lawyers registered with the Bar Council of India. This could allow for exciting opportunities for training and collaboration between firms in England and Wales and India.
The opening up of India in General
There has been a general opening up of the Indian market to foreigners in recent times. India has also allowed access to foreign universities for the first time in 2023, granting approval for foreign universities to set up campuses in the country. It is said that India has welcomed the opening up because it will enable students to go to India for a foreign education, which should be desirable for English-speaking universities because a lot of business and education in India is already conducted in English.
Based on insight, it is believed that the opening up may lead to greater collaboration between Indian and UK orgnisations, rather than UK organisations simply setting up overnight indepedendtly.
In 2022 India also signed an agreement with the UK to recognise foreign qualifications.
On 5 March 2023 the Unitied Nations introduced a recognition of higher-education qualifications with 21 countries including the UK ratifiying it, but not India. India are however continuing to enter bilateral agreements with individual countries that have ratified the decision.
The return of the UK to India’s e-visa scheme
The announcements come not long after India returned the UK to their e-visa scheme in December 2022. Previously, during COVID, relations between India and UK were strained and India ejected the UK and Canada from their e-visa scheme making it difficult for UK citizens to obtain a visa to access the country. Following a softening of relations, and perhaps helped along by the appointment of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister, India has returned the UK to their e-visa scheme allowing UK citizens to obtain an entry visa with relative ease.
House of Lord’s Road Map to closer collaboration with India
Published on 12 January 2023, the House of Lords has set out its aims for closer collaboration with India and developing a mutually agreed roadmap to “deepen bilateral ties by 2030 with the aim of developing a comprehensive strategic partnership” including a free trade agreement and on areas of defence.
India is an increasingly growing super power with growth this year expected to be at 6.1% and 6.2% in 2024, the fastest rate of any major economy (source IMF Forecast, FT Article*) with a big push on tech, real estate and business process outsourcing. There are many other areas for growth and opportunities for India to up-skill its economy, including in particular the Maritime industry given the country’s 1,600 km of coastline.
Outsourced processing is already used by a lot of UK businesses, but this drive by the UK government is to intended to build ties that go beyond outsourcing solutions alone. With this in mind, the opening up of the Indian economy by India and the softening of relationship between UK and India can only be seen as positive, and the recent lifting of restrictions on foreign lawyers monumentally historic.
It will be exciting to see the opportunities arising from the recent developments which appear very positive for the two countries and their respective business interests, including the individual interests of independent private businesses operating in either jurisdictions.