May 122010

Many in India have  grown impatient over whether the US will allow Indian officials to interrogate Mumbai terrorist suspect David Headley.  According to the Times of India, “US ambassador Timothy Roemer… promised India’s direct access to.. Headley… in the weeks ahead.”  The full article is here.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that Headley will talk.  If he does, he could potentially provide incriminating evidence, thus hindering his US defense.

Yesterday I highlighted a story about two Chinese lawyers whose licenses were revoked after representing a client the Chinese government deemed part of an “evil cult.”  Human rights stories often dominate the news, and another newsworthy story concerns Bita Ghaedi.  Ghaedi fled from Iran to the UK to escape a forced marriage and in fear that her family would discover that she had a hidden lover.  Both are offenses under Iran’s sharia law, and Ghaedi fears death either by the government or her family (an honor killing).  The UK temporarily suspended Ghaedi’s deportation while she files a renewed application for judicial review.  More at the Guardian.

Ghaedi’s case showcases the ongoing challenges Western countries face as foreign nationals flee oppressive laws/regimes and seek protection in more liberal societies.  Frequently, petitioners are granted protection from sharia law.  Hopefully democracies will increasingly protest harsh treatment of women, minorities, and others under sharia law.

Apr 272010

Practicing law across borders obviously presents many issues, especially in countries that do not allow foreign law firms to have a presence within their jurisdiction.  For instance, India’s Indian Advocates Act prevents foreign law firms from practicing law in the country.

India’s stringent regulations have ruffled many feathers, including US firms wanting to establish a presence in the world’s largest democracy.  In the 1990′s, thee firms (two US and and one UK) were granted licenses by India’s central bank to operate liaison offices in India; however, India’s High Court concluded that the firms were in violation of the Act.  In December 2009, the Court suspended the foreign firm’s licenses.  The court held that the Act prohibited the “practise of the profession of law,” which includes conducting litigation and non-litigation matters within India.

Despite the rulings, Indian attorneys have expressed interest in having greater access to US legal markets, and a dialogue has started regarding whether and how to open both markets to foreign firms.  The dialogue was continued at the 2010 ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York City.

A panel including Lalit Bhasin (Society of Indian Law Firms), Priti Suri (Indian Bar), Eugene Theroux (Baker & McKenzie, Washington DC), and Daniel Watson (Office of US Trade) highlighted obstacles to reform. Concerns range from the overal impact of  foreign involvement in the Indian legal market; easing educational requirements for Indian attorneys seeking admission in the US; and leveling the playing field for Indian attorneys within their own country.  The Act not only restricts foreign involvement but also strains Indian lawyers/firms by limiting law firm size and the ability to advertise and solicit business.  I get the impression that the Act’s restrictions will eventually be eased, but it is a matter of when and how.  The dialogue is scheduled to continue… stay tuned.

UPDATE:  More information on India’s 12/2009 High Court ruling can be found at

Mar 252010

A conflict concerning international criminal law and terrorism is brewing, impacting relations between the US and India.

In October 2009, US authorities arrested David Coleman Headley in Chicago and charged him with crimes related to the 2008 Mumbai, India terrorist attack.  US officials say Headley was involved in scoping locations and planning the attacks.  On March 18, 2010, David Headley pled guilty to twelve charges in exchange for the US not pursuing the death penalty.

India is not pleased.

India claims the the plea violates “extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties between the [US and India],” which India claims require Headley to be extradited.  According to the Economic Times:

Under the international law, a country can take the sovereignty plea to deny cooperation only where the issue involves the realm of defence or security of boundaries. Even if this was so, the sovereign right as regards the Headley case would rest with India, the victim of the 26/11 attack, and not the US.

“The plea agreement should not have been done as the case involves something between Headley and India, the victim of the terror act to which he has pleaded guilty,” an official pointed out. Even though six American citizens were killed, one can’t overlook the fact that the prime target and also majority of the victims were Indians, the official added.

Headley’s case will examine several important issues, such as how the United States will classify and treat American suspects accused of planning or committing terrorist acts overseas.  The US has a clear interest because Headley is an American citizen, he was apprehended on American soil, and six American citizens were killed in the Mumbai attack.  However, India’s interest is immensely more significant as India was the situs of the crime and suffered the most casualties.

This case could turn out to be interesting political theater, but it could also provide precedent for how the US treats American citizens accused of terrorist attacks in undisputedly democratic countries.