PK Malhotra and Sudhanshu Pandey

PK Malhotra and Sudhanshu Pandey speak to Vandana Chatlani about opening the legal market and making speedy dispute resolution a reality

Legal market liberalization was high on the agenda when India’s law secretary, PK Malhotra, and the joint secretary for commerce, Sudhanshu Pandey, visited London recently. Reactions from lawyers in England were muted as overseas lawyers heard that India was to open its doors a decade ago. However, both Malhotra and Pandey say they mean business as India’s economic progress requires “moving with the times” and adopting global best practices. In line with this vision, they explain how plans for commercial courts and changes to arbitration practices will transform dispute resolution in India and increase the country’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

Liberalizing the legal market

IBLJ: Foreign law firms have been pushing to enter India for years. Promised moves towards liberalization in the past have failed to materialize. What has changed and where has your momentum come from?

PK Malhotra: There were certain apprehensions from members of the legal community in India that if foreign firms were to establish an office in India, the Indian legal community, as far as professional activities are concerned, would be adversely affected. In my personal view, this was a misplaced notion. Going by our past practice, in whatever sector the Indian economy has opened up, be it banking, financial or insurance, the Indian community and economy has benefited. Today we are living in a global village. No country can think of economic progress in isolation. Multinational companies are establishing offices in India and they obviously need in-house legal advice. If foreign law firms come in, these companies will get the kind of comfort they are looking for. Ultimately, it will accelerate India’s economic growth.

Sudhanshu Pandey: I can entirely echo the sentiments the law secretary has expressed. I would add just one very classic example. Take the case of the introduction of IT in India. When the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi backed IT development in India, there were severe apprehensions that it would lead to a loss of jobs. But what has it ultimately led to? Today, India has become synonymous with IT. This has happened with the medical profession too. India has nothing to worry about. We should be confident of our capabilities. Yes, there are certain asymmetries which the Indian legal system suffers from and they need to be addressed before we open up.

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