Foreign Nationals Allowed to Practice Law in India, Says Delhi High Court

In a groundbreaking ruling, the Delhi High Court declared that foreign nationals can now be enrolled as advocates in India, provided that Indian citizens are granted the same privilege to practice law in their respective countries. The court’s decision challenges the authority of the Bar Council of India (BCI) and State Bar Councils to debar foreign citizens from the legal profession. The judgment, delivered by Justice Yashwant Varma, emphasized that the Advocates Act of 1961 does not completely exclude foreign nationals from enrollment, as the proviso to Section 24(1)(a) allows for exceptions for foreigners meeting the necessary qualifications.

The court further stated that if a foreign nation does not impose nationality restrictions on its citizens practicing law, those citizens should be entitled to apply for enrollment in India, provided they fulfill all other requirements specified in Section 24. However, the court clarified that a foreign national’s entitlement to practice law in India is revoked if the Indian government determines that their country prevents Indian citizens from pursuing the legal profession or subjects them to discriminatory treatment. Such determinations require a thorough investigation by the Union Government and the issuance of a notification in accordance with Section 47(1).

The court emphasized that Section 47 of the Advocates Act is based on the principle of reciprocity among nation-states and that the power to make decisions under this section lies solely with the Central government. Neither the BCI nor any State Bar Council possesses jurisdiction in this regard. The ruling was delivered in response to a petition filed by Daeyoung Jung, a Korean national who sought enrollment with the Bar Council of Delhi after completing his law degree from the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) in Hyderabad.

Justice Varma criticized the BCI’s handling of Jung’s application, stating that the query about his application for Indian citizenship was irrelevant. The court also dismissed the BCI’s argument that disciplinary proceedings against foreign nationals could pose practical difficulties, as they might not be present in the country during those proceedings. Additionally, the court rejected the notion that allowing Jung’s enrollment would lead to an influx of foreign lawyers in India, noting that the petitioner was not seeking to establish his own legal practice but rather to pursue enrollment as an advocate.

Consequently, the court set aside the BCI’s decision and ordered them to process Jung’s application for enrollment. This landmark ruling paves the way for increased diversity in the legal profession in India and strengthens the principle of reciprocity among nations regarding the practice of law.


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