The proposed amendments to the Legal Profession (Amendment) Act 2012, which was tabled in Parliament, allows foreign lawyers to arbitrate, but restricts unauthorised "fly-in fly-out" lawyers from conducting their business here.
The amendment to Section 37(2a) of the Act makes it an offence for foreign lawyers to act as advocates and solicitors with regard to local or international law unless authorised to do so.
It is also an offence if a foreign lawyer, who is not practising in an international partnership, qualified foreign legal firm or local legal firm, to fly in and out of the country to provide or solicit work with regard to local and foreign laws.
However, under Section 37(2b), an exemption is allowed if the foreign lawyer enters the country to provide advice or consultation to a client on legal matters not involving any aspect of Malaysian law.
The exemption also covers foreign lawyers who obtain authorisation from the Immigration Department with regards to their stay here not exceeding a period of 60 accumulated days.
A proposed new Section 37(a) also exempts persons involved in arbitral proceedings, including foreign lawyers entering Malaysia on a fly-in-fly-out basis for arbitration.
While debating the proposed amendments, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (BN-Pengerang) said the Government must ensure small and medium law firms would not be adversely affected.
"I am not against international legal firms entering the local market, but there must be space for local firms too," she said.