Mission impossible

One of the UK’s premier lawyers will have been seen this week doing the rounds in the whiskey and canapés world of the Indian business community. 


Stuart Popham, the senior partner of Clifford Chance, is part of the UK Government’s trade and jobs delegation to India and his not-so-secret ‘mission’ is to sell the UK’s professional services to India.


The law man is operating under the diplomatic-style immunity of politicos Cameron and Osborne and though his free pass may only last two days, Mr Popham is determined to keep the legal liberalisation flame alive. 


Speaking to us on day one of the mission, he said the issue of liberalisation was being raised by the UK Prime Minister in Bangalore, in various meetings in Mumbai and he expected the discussions to continue in Delhi. 


For lawyers back in the UK, not to mention the unknown few running practices out of Indian hotels, the opening up of the Indian legal industry might feel a long way off. Nevertheless, the high-profile UK delegation must spell good news as not since the Raj has such an impressive group of statesmen, businessmen and…er…sportsmen been shipped off to take India. 


However, according to recent RSG research, liberalisation is on the back burner. New Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, has a much tougher task making the Indian court system more efficient. Other commentators point to the as yet unsigned EU-India Free Trade Act as potentially being more significant in opening up the legal sector.


Talking about the prospects for liberalisation, Mr Popham, who is used to set-backs (he was also on Gordon Brown’s delegation in 2008 after all), said: “I am not expecting a major development but I do see the establishment of increasingly closer and stronger relations between the UK and India which is the primary purpose of ‘the mission’.” 


So for now, when the tuxedos come off at the end of the trip and the delegation returns home, the unnamed UK lawyers that are left behind the protectionist legal lines will have to copy our most famous silver screen secret agent and once again retreat to the shadows of their plush hotels.