Lavinia Woodward – did the Judge get it wrong?

28 September 2017

There has been a lot of criticism over the sentence given to Lavinia Woodward at Oxford Crown Court; many saying HHJ Ian Pringle QC was too lenient and that she received special treatment due to being an Oxford student, having a privileged life and that the Judge gave too much consideration on how a custodial sentence might affect her future prospects. Mark Brooks, Chairman of the ManKind Initiative, went a step further by branding Woodward’s sentence "unfair" and said she would have been expected to go to prison had she been a man. The facts perhaps paint a different picture and go some way to explain the rationale for the sentence.

Lavinia Woodward pleaded guilty in April to the offence of unlawful wounding; maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. The case was adjourned to allow medical reports to be prepared to assist the sentencing Judge. At a further hearing in May the Judge took an exceptional course, deferring sentence to allow Ms Woodward to continue her counselling and to show that she had rid herself of addictions to drugs and alcohol. It was at this hearing that he said that he felt prison would be “too severe” for her, but she obviously needed to stay drug/alcohol free.

Ms Woodward had begun a new relationship in October 2016 whilst suffering from her addictions. On 30 December 2016 her partner visited her in her college accommodation; it was clear to him that she had been drinking. They argued; Ms Woodward picked up a bread knife and struck her partner in his lower leg. The significant factor, which has a dramatic effect on the overall seriousness of the incident, was that the injuries he sustained, whilst unpleasant, were of a minor nature; two 1cm cuts to the fingers and the cut to the leg requiring only three stitches. 

A Judge must have regard to the relevant sentencing guidelines to determine the culpability of the defendant and the harm caused to the victim; all dependent on the particular facts. There is then a consideration of any factors which aggravate or mitigate the sentence. In this case the Judge correctly decided the offence fell into category two for sentencing; lower harm due to the injuries sustained but higher culpability due to use of the knife . The starting point in this category is 18 months custody with a range of one year to three years custody. The only aggravating feature was the fact that Ms Woodward was drunk. 

The Judge considered that there were numerous mitigating factors, including: no previous convictions, genuine remorse, she suffered from an emotionally unstable personality disorder, an eating disorder and alcohol dependence. She had also proved that she had undergone extensive treatment to rid herself of her alcohol/drug addiction. It must also be remembered that Ms Woodward admitted her guilt. 

On this basis, the Judge sentenced her to 10 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. 

When the harm caused and the culpability of Ms Woodward are balanced against her significant personal mitigation a suspended sentence seems justifiable, irrespective of her career aspirations. 

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