28th September 2017

I wrote back in May about the case of Lavinia Woodward, an Oxford student who pleaded guilty to stabbing her boyfriend and where the Judge deferred sentence. She has now been back to court and sentenced. At Oxford Crown Court in front of His Honour Judge Pringle QC she was made subject to a 10 month custodial penalty suspended for 18 months. It is not clear from the reporting whether there are any Community requirements attached to this sentence but it seems likely that there will be.

Much of the comment has been about Miss Woodward’s apparent privileged background as if to suggest someone from a different background may not have been treated so leniently. I disagree with that assessment. The sentence imposed seems perfectly appropriate both in its length and in the decision to suspend imprisonment. Whilst the decision to suspend a custodial sentence is always a matter for the Judge’s discretion (where the custodial period is less than 2 years) a case involving someone of previous good character, who appears motivated to stay out of trouble in the future, would seem to be a prime candidate for suspending a sentence. Provided the case is properly prepared and that all relevant mitigation has been assembled I would hope any defendant in a similar position, no matter their background, has a good chance of receiving a suspended sentence.

The apparent suitability of this sentence raises the question as to why the Judge deferred sentence in the first place. If he had imposed this sentence in May then it is unlikely that the story would have made the news. I speculated that the Judge was thinking of departing from his guidelines but in the end he did not do so.

The other factor in this case is Miss Woodward’s professed desire to pursue a medical career. That will be a matter for the relevant professional bodies to consider in due course. It seems to me wholly unlikely that someone with such a serious conviction would be admitted to the profession.

Blog by Gerry Scott, Criminal Solicitor