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The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that foreign law firms and foreign lawyers cannot practise in India.

Foreign firms and their lawyers could, however, visit India on a “fly in-fly out” basis only for the purposes of giving advice on foreign laws, said the court.

A bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and Uday U Lalit held that the Advocate Act and other pertinent statutes debar foreign law firms from practising in India. It said they were disqualified from practising in India for both litigatious and non-litigatious activities.

Clarifying that the foreign firms and their lawyers could, however, visit India on a “fly in-fly out” basis for the purposes of advising on foreign laws, the bench added that such visits must not amount to advocacy under the Act.

The court also said that foreign lawyers could not be barred from coming to India for conducting arbitration proceedings in disputes involving international commercial arbitration but they would be subject to the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India. Rules of institutional arbitration will apply to them, the court said.

The bench said the Central government and the Bar Council of India may frame appropriate rules in this regard.

The top court was called upon to decide upon the issue after the Madras High Court and the Bombay High Court delivered conflicting judgments on entry of foreign law firms.

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