Whilst it is always somewhat difficult to write about cases that have been reported in the news given the lack of hard facts the case of Lavinia Woodward has rightly attracted a lot of coverage. She is an Oxford student with aspirations of becoming a surgeon who has had her sentenced deferred for a period of 4 months having entered a guilty plea to stabbing her boyfriend.
The first question is what offence is she to be sentenced for. Although it is not clear it seems likely she is to be sentenced for an offence contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, that is to say an offence of unlawfully and maliciously wounding or inflicting grievous bodily harm. The alternative is an offence contrary to section 18 of the same act which involves an additional element of intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Given, however, the reference the Judge hearing the case made to a Suspended Sentence as a possible outcome it seems likely that it is a case of the former rather the latter given that even the lowest sentence envisioned in the Sentencing Guidelines for an offence of section 18 assault would be too long a sentence for a Judge to suspend.
A deferred sentence is where a Judge puts off sentencing for a fixed period of time and imposes conditions which the offender must comply with. In this case it appears the conditions are not to offend further and to remain drug free. The Sentencing Guidelines for an offence of section 20 have three different starting points depending on the seriousness of the offence and in total have a range of a community order to 4 years in custody. Given the deferral it is possible the Judge has taken the view that this is a wholly exceptional case that might be dealt with by means of either a financial penalty or a conditional discharge if Miss Woodward demonstrates on her own the progress that would have been asked of her during the period of a community order or suspended sentence.
Clearly without being in court one cannot know the full extent of the mitigation nor if the Judge gave any indication as to what sentence he might ultimately have in mind. On the basis of what has been reported it is far from clear that this is a case that would justify such a departure. Given that this appears to have been a sustained attack, involving a weapon and committed whilst under the influence of drink and drugs it seems on the limited information to be an offence towards the top end of the range. Whilst the Judge may have in mind a sentence that enables her to pursue her chosen career such a conviction would have to be disclosed and it is unlikely in the extreme she would be able to register to practice as a doctor.
Blog by Gerry Scott, Criminal Defence Solicitor