The Data Brief

A monthly data protection bulletin from the barristers at 5 Essex Chambers

Breach of undertaking met with substantial suspended sentence

29 September 2022

In Dew v Mills-Nanyn [2022] EWHC 1925 (QB), the High Court dealt with a defendant for breaching his undertakings, contained in a consent order settling a claim in harassment and misuse of private information. It imposed a six-month suspended custodial sentence.

The context was the breakdown of a relationship which began via online dating. Ms Dew had sought to break off contact with Mr Mills-Nanyn, but he was unwilling to accept that, and began a ‘serious and escalating campaign of harassing behaviour towards her’. It appears that this included disclosing confidential information about Ms Dew, contacting her friends and family, her university and her employer, as well as monitoring their activity and even impersonating them, as well as telling untruths such as that he had obtained a non-molestation order against her. She issued a claim in the High Court, which was promptly settled by way of undertakings. The settlement order included a penal notice.

Mr Mills-Nanyn then repeatedly breached his undertakings, and in December 2021 Ms Dew brought committal proceedings (and one gets a sense of Mr Mills-Nanyn’s behaviour from the fact that this was for twenty sample breaches in May 2021 alone). Mr Mills-Nanyn initially denied the breaches, and then largely disengaged from the proceedings, although he continued to breach the undertakings. Just before trial, he admitted the breaches. He then sought to have the sanction hearing adjourned, but this was refused.

Collins Rice J noted that there are no sentencing guidelines and that each case is fact-specific. She took into account in particular the effect on Ms Dew of the breaches, the extent to which they were deliberate and culpable, and Mr Mills-Nanyn’s behaviour since being confronted with allegations of breach. She also took into account that this was ‘continuing relationship abuse’, and that it was not only abusive to her but also an insult to the court. She imposed a six-month custodial sentence, although his (late) admissions and personal mitigation meant that she felt able to suspend it, for two years. She also ordered that the order and judgment be published. The order also includes an order for the payment by Mr Mills-Nanyn of damages and costs of almost £130,000.

This case demonstrates how seriously the courts will take any breach of undertakings, especially in a case of this nature. The inclusion of a penal notice on any order containing undertakings is crucial. It also shows how sensible behaviour – engaging with proceedings, admitting guilt where appropriate, and showing genuine contrition and remorse – can substantially limit the sanction for contempt.

Further reading:

Dew v Mills-Nanyn [2022] EWHC 1925 (QB)

The Data Brief

A monthly data protection bulletin from the barristers at 5 Essex Chambers

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