Aggressive Litigation - how much is too much?

The recent case of PJSC Aeroflot - Russian Airlines v Leeds & Anor Trustees of the estate of Boris Berezovsky) & Ors [2018] EWHC 1735 (Ch) (06 July 2018) highlights the dangers of conducting litigation with unusually high levels of aggression.

Aeroflot’s claim was that the defendants, Mr Glushkov and Mr Berezovsky, had conspired to defraud Aeroflot of substantial sums of money by organising loans to Aeroflot in exchange for payments that Aeroflot stood to receive from non-Russian airlines for overflying Russian territory. 

The Court proceedings were long and complex, having initially been brought by Aeroflot in December 2010.  

Unexpectedly, Mr Glushkov died in March 2018.  As has been widely reported in the media, it appears that he was strangled to death.  A murder investigation is ongoing.

For reasons that Aeroflot decided not to disclose, Aeroflot discontinued its claims just before the trial in the case.  Mr Glushkov had always argued that the claim against him was politically motivated. We may never know whether that is true. 

However, there is an obvious inference to be drawn from Aeroflot’s discontinuance so late in the day that it had realised the case was doomed to fail.

What is striking about this case is the Court’s finding that Mr Glushkov’s estate should recover a higher level of costs (indemnity costs) against Aeroflot due to unusually aggressive conduct by Aeroflot and its solicitors, Pinsent Masons, particularly after Mr Glushkov’s death. 

An example of this conduct was a letter from Pinsent Masons to Mr Glushkov’s solicitor in which they essentially berated Mr Glushkov’s civil partner and his daughter and asked a number of intrusive questions about Mr Glushkov’s estate. 

The Judge described that letter as shameful and recorded that Aeroflot and Pinsent Masons had lost sight of “any basic standard of decent and compassionate behaviour” in writing such an aggressive letter aimed at Mr Glushkov’s family members while they were still coming to terms with their bereavement.

It would be interesting to know whether Pinsent Masons’ aggressive approach was a true reflection of Aeroflot’s instructions. 

One thing is for sure – this case is a reminder for litigants and their solicitors about the standards of conduct expected from them and how a radical departure from those standards can have severe consequences.

If you would like more information on this topic or for advice about a litigation matter, please contact a member of our Dispute Resolution team.