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UK law firms may set shop in India

November 01, 2008 15:20 IST

Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan has said that UK law firms could be allowed to operate in India but a final decision in the matter would have to be taken by the Indian Bar Council.

"I don't think Indian Bar Council can continue to resist (the proposal to allow foreign law firms to operate in India)," the Chief Justice of India said in London on Friday evening while delivering a keynote address on 'Judicial Reforms in India' organised by the Indo-EU Business Forum' at the Court House hotel, in the heart of the city.

Asked if UK law firms can be allowed to do transactional work with the objective of facilitating foreign investment in India and to advise the foreign investors, Justice Balakrishnan said, "It should be decided by the Bar Council of India. I am sure it will come soon. Discussion between the Bar Council of India and its British counterpart has started. It may happen shortly and it will be helpful."

India's High Commissioner to the UK Shiv Shankar Mukherjee who spoke on the occasion, referred to the opening of legal system in India, saying, "Of course it is going to happen."

He said he was present during a meeting between Indian Law Minister, H R Bharadwaj and Britain's Secretary for Justice, Jack Straw, when the issue had figured prominently.

"I cannot give you a time frame but this is being handled at the senior level and it will be done."

Justice Balakrishnan also dwelt at length on the large number of cases pending in Indian courts and steps taken to deal with the issue.

Justice Pasayat said reforms of the judicial system must take into account the long delay in the disposal of cases which has resulted in huge arrears and heavy backlog of pending files in various courts in the country.

"The problem of delay and huge arrears is crucial and unless something is done about it, the whole judicial system may get crushed under the weight of arrears. For long the patience of the people has been taken for granted.

The need today is for some effective measures consistent with the demands of justice, equity and fair-play to accelerate the disposal of cases and clear the arrears."

At the same time, he cautioned that care must also be taken against undue speed or haste and "this would be substituting one evil for another."

Noting that the working condition of judicial officer is dismal, Justice Pasayat said "nevertheless, the disposal rate per judge is very high."

Vijay Goel, founder of the Indo-EU Business Forum, said the Forum has been receiving queries from Indian corporate houses regarding acquisition of British companies.

Timothy Dutton QC, Chairman, Bar Council, allayed fears that if the Indian legal system was opened up, it would be swamped by British solicitors.

"On the other hand, Indian law firms may need specialist advice we British law firms could provide. We are prepared to share our expertise."

Lord Goldsmith QC, Former UK Attorney General, lauded the Indian Supreme Court for its "extraordinary judicial integrity".

"The Supreme court has dealt with some of the extraordinary social issues and taken active part in solving the problems," he said. Lord Goldsmith said liberalisation of legal services in India is absolutely necessary for the growth of Indian business itself.

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