A High Court judge has accused City firm Pinsent Masons of losing sight of ‘any basic standard of decent and compassionate behaviour’ in a case in which the firm’s conduct was branded ‘shameful’.

Pinsent Masons was acting for Russian airline Aeroflot in a now discontinued case, in which it was alleged that businessmen Nikolay Glushkov and Boris Berezovsky – both now dead – misappropriated large sums.

The attack on Pinsents came in a ruling over costs in the case. In PJSC Aeroflot – Russian Airlines v Leeds & Anor (Trustees of the estate of Boris Berezovsky) & Ors, Mrs Justice Rose critcised a letter sent by Pinsents to a lawyer appointed to deal with Glushkov’s estate.

Glushkov was found dead at his Surrey home in March this year and the High Court appointed solicitor Subir Desai of London firm Charles Douglas Solicitors to represent the estate.

According to Rose’s judgment, a witness statement was handed to the court on 12 April to describe how Glushkov’s daughter and Glushkov’s civil partner, named as Mr Trushin, had been trying to work out how best to deal with the case while also dealing with their bereavement.

However, later that day, Pinsent Masons wrote to Desai to ascertain details of the estate. According to Rose the letter was 'shameful’ and ‘effectively berated’ Trushin and Glushkova.

‘The letter went on to ask many intrusive and hectoring questions about what contact the clients have had with others about the trial; what efforts they have made to establish whether Glushkov left a will… in particular what assets do they consider belong to the estate; what efforts they have made to identify assets,’ Rose said. 

Pinsents sought permission to discontinue the case the following day.

Rose added: ‘It is, fortunately, “out of the norm” for a litigant and its legal representatives so to lose sight of any basic standard of decent and compassionate behaviour as to send a letter in those terms. It is all the more shocking given that it seems very unlikely that at the time the letter was drafted and sent, Aeroflot had no inkling that the next day it would serve a notice of discontinuance, abandoning all claims against Glushkov’s estate.’

Rose said the appropriate order is that Aeroflot pay all the defendants’ costs to be assessed on the indemnity basis for the whole proceedings.

A spokesperson for Pinsents said: 'For a number of years we have been assisting Aeroflot in pursuing a claim against various individuals and companies, alleging that a serious and complex fraud has taken place.

'Our sole objective has been to help our client discover the truth of these matters. Mr Glushkov’s tragic death has been truly saddening and we have been sensitive to this during our subsequent conduct of the litigation.’