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Foreign law firms’ entry in India: Delhi HC seeks BCI’s response in plea challenging move

In New Delhi, the Delhi High Court has issued a notice in response to a plea challenging a notification released by the Bar Council of India (BCI) last year, which allowed the entry of foreign law firms and lawyers into India. The court, presided over by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora, has summoned responses from both the BCI and the central government.

The court has set April 24 as the date for the hearing, seeking the BCI’s perspective on the plea. The case revolves around the Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022, introduced by the BCI last year. These rules permit the registration and practice of non-litigious law matters in India by foreign lawyers.

The plea questions the BCI’s authority under the Advocates Act of 1961 to grant such permissions, contending that, according to the current law, only advocates enrolled with the BCI are authorized to practice law in India.

Initially, the Bar Council of India opposed the entry of foreign lawyers and law firms in any form. However, in Joint Consultative Conferences between 2007-14, it was collectively decided by the BCI, State Bar Councils, and other stakeholders to explore this avenue. In September 2022, discussions between representatives from the Law Society of England and Wales, the U.K. government’s international trade department, and Indian law firm representatives took place, advocating for the removal of restrictions on foreign lawyers practicing in India.

In response, the BCI issued rules in March 2023, permitting foreign lawyers and law firms to practice foreign law, international law, and international arbitration matters in India, strictly under the principle of reciprocity. Notably, they are not allowed to appear in Indian courts. However, the plea raises concerns about the absence of a mutual arrangement between India and the countries whose law firms are permitted to operate in India, arguing that the BCI’s decision violates the principle of reciprocity. The plea emphasizes that opening up law practice in India to foreign lawyers will contribute to the growth of the legal profession in the country.

Delhi HC refuses to quash summons to CM Kejriwal forretweeting Dhruv Rathee’s video against BJP

NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has declined to dismiss the summonses issued against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a criminal defamation case related to his retweet of an allegedly defamatory video titled “BJP IT Cell Part II,” posted by YouTuber Dhruv Rathee in 2018.

In a significant ruling on defamation, Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma, sitting as a single judge, held that retweeting defamatory content constitutes an offense under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The court emphasized that the act of ‘retweeting’ on the former social media platform ‘Twitter’ (now ‘X’) involves resharing a ‘tweet’ without any edits, and it attracts the provisions of defamation.

While acknowledging the evolution of social media features like ‘quote tweet,’ allowing users to repost content with their comments, the court upheld the summonses issued by the Magistrate and the Sessions Court’s decision in Kejriwal’s subsequent revision plea. The bench emphasized the importance of responsibility when retweeting content on social media, especially content about which the person may lack knowledge.

The court ruled that since reputational harm is caused by defaming a person, individuals who engage in retweeting without a disclaimer may face penal, civil, or tort action. The decision, however, leaves some ambiguity regarding whether a general disclaimer on the person’s timeline, such as “retweets do not amount to endorsements,” would suffice or if specific endorsements must accompany each retweet.

Highlighting the added responsibility of public figures in disseminating content, the court noted that defamatory statements echoed in the cyber domain can have far-reaching consequences. For public figures like Kejriwal, with a substantial following, the court reasoned that the audience becomes a citizenry at large, and the impact on society is substantial.

The defamation complaint against Kejriwal was filed by Vikas Sanskrityayan, the founder of the social media page “I support Narendra Modi.” Sanskrityayan alleged that the YouTube video, circulated by influencer Dhruv Rathee, contained false and defamatory claims, and Kejriwal’s retweet without verification had tarnished his reputation both within India and internationally.

The trial court had accepted the complainant’s assertion that the video was defamatory and that Kejriwal’s retweet had caused reputational damage. The case is titled “Arvind Kejriwal v. State & Anr.”