RGP successfully defends the right of Russian lawyers to assert legal advice privilege in English court proceedings

RGP, acting as part of PJSC Tatneft’s legal team, has successfully defended the right of Russian lawyers to claim legal advice privilege in English court proceedings. On 11 September 2020, the High Court of Justice in London handed down a landmark judgment for the Russian business and legal community in the case of PJSC Tatneft v Bogolyubov & Ors (Case No: CL-2016-000172). The court held that under English law, legal advice privilege extends to communications between a client and Russian lawyers whether they are in-house lawyers or outside legal advisers, irrespective of their status.

The RGP team represented PJSC Tatneft together with A. Yagelnitsky, lawyers of Debevoise & Plimpton’s London office and Henry King QC. Their work has resulted in a precedent being set that will protect the Russian business community’s interests in the English courts.

In her judgement, Mrs Justice Moulder considered the applicability of legal privilege under English law to a client’s relationship with foreign lawyers and held that legal privilege in English proceedings applies to communications with foreign lawyers, including in-house lawyers, irrespective of their status under national professional regulations. Mrs Justice Moulder advanced a pragmatic approach underlining that in order for privilege to apply the lawyer merely has to be providing legal advice in its professional communications with the client. In the Court’s opinion, this is sufficient for treating such communications as legally privileged and, therefore, not subject to disclosure to the other party according to the general rule in English proceedings.

Mrs Justice Moulder noted that applying privilege only to Russian trial attorneys, as was demanded by the parties opposing Tatneft, would be unfair since it would leave unprotected client communications with in-house lawyers and external advisors having no trial attorney status.

“We are very happy with the judgment and consider it fair and just,” said Peter Gloushkov, Advisor to the General Director of Tatneft, “It is difficult to imagine the consequences of depriving Russian businesses of their right to assert legal advice privilege in English courts. I believe that in these proceedings we have succeeded in protecting the interests of the entire Russian business community.”

“This kind of forward-thinking approach espoused by the English legal system is certainly good news, especially given the sheer number of cases involving Russian parties pending in English courts. Had the High Court refused to extend legal advice privilege to relations between clients and their Russian non-advocate lawyers, this would have resulted in substantial difficulties not only for the Russian business community but also for companies from most civil law jurisdictions,” noted Ilya Rybalkin, partner and head of the RGP Dispute Resolution Practice.

PJSC Tatneft is one of Russia’s largest vertically integrated oil companies uniting such fast-growing businesses as oil and gas extraction, oil processing, petrochemicals, tyres, petrol stations, electric power, oil and gas equipment design and production, and services. Tatneft also holds assets in financial companies. Tatneft is one of the largest Russian public companies with a market capitalisation of over US$28 billion as of the end of 2019.

Rybalkin, Gortsunyan & Partners (RGP) is an independent law firm established in 2018 in Russia. RGP supports clients from all over the world in their business dealings involving Russia and CIS countries. In addition, our team offers unparalleled expertise in foreign legal matters to Russian companies with a significant international presence. RGP lawyers and trial attorneys have advised on the most high-profile transactions, investigations and disputes in the history of modern Russia and represented clients in more than 175 jurisdictions worldwide.