Justices AK Goel and Uday Lalit made it clear that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".
"The prohibition applicable to any person in India, other than advocate enrolled under the Advocates Act, certainly applies to any foreigner also", it said.
"Holding that the "... foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers can not practice profession of law in India, either in the litigation or in non-litigation side", a bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit said: "We hold that the expression "fly in and fly out" will only cover a casual visit not amounting to "practice".
Referring to the Advocates Act and the Bar Council Rules, the top court said, "We uphold the view of the Bombay High Court and Madras High Court in para 63 (i) of the judgment to the effect that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers can not practice profession of law in India either in the litigation or in non-litigation side". The court upheld the two judgments to the extent that foreign law firms could not practise in India.
The Bombay High Court had in 2009 challenged the RBI's decision to allow foreign law firms such as White & Case, Chadbourne & Parke, and Ashurst to set up liaison offices on Indian soil.
The only exception that is available is for foreign lawyers coming to India for providing advice on foreign law or when they are coming in to take part in an worldwide commercial arbitration.
The Court has also permitted foreign lawyers to participate in worldwide commercial arbitrations, subject to institutional rules.
It also ruled that BPO companies working on legal services can operate in India as they don't have to operate under the ambit of the Advocates Act. He had said that foreign lawyers should be allowed to come to India if Indian lawyers wanted the privilege of doing so in other countries.
Modifying the High Court order, the top court said: "We hold that mere label of such services can not be treated as conclusive".
The court verdict came on pleas challenging the judgments pronounced by the Bombay and Madras High Courts.
"Visit of any foreign lawyer on fly-in-and-fly-out basis may amount to practice of law if it is on regular basis".