Anorak

Anorak | Lavinia Woodward’s case tells us nothing about race but it might expose the myth of gender equality

Lavinia Woodward’s case tells us nothing about race but it might expose the myth of gender equality

by | 28th, September 2017

Afua Hirsch has something to say about Lavinia Woodward, the troubled woman guilty of attacking her boyfriend. For the crime of unlawful wounding Woodward was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months. Much of the narrative has focused on her intellect, which the judge praised. He told her “normally it would attract a custodial sentence, whether it is immediate or suspended”. Judge Pringle praised her “extraordinary talent” for learning and medicine – Woodward wants to be a heart surgeon –  and listed “mitigating factors” in arriving at his conclusion that a period in prison would be the wrong sentence.

 

 

The Press disagreed, calling it “TOFF JUSICE” (The Sun) and reworking the judge’s comments into “Oxford student branded ‘too clever to be jailed'” (Mirror). Woodward became a talking point. So here’s Hirsch to tell Guardian readers: “The Lavinia Woodward case exposes equality before the law as a myth.”

It does? She describes Woodward as “white, and privileged”. I’d add ‘blonde’. It is surely Woodward’s blondeness that made her case front-page news.

Hirsch adds: “At the time of her attack, she was studying medicine at Christ Church college, Oxford. She had attended a prestigious international school. She could afford an excellent lawyer. She was able to demonstrate – in a language the judiciary can easily understand – her potential future contribution to society.”

Hirsch then reviews all the facts – although the judge’s full comments have not been published – adding maybe a dash of her own prejudice to the matter. “She is as deserving of a prison sentence as the young black men so often reported as being involved in stabbings,” she writes, as if all stabbings are of equal damage and all cases easily comparable.

But if it’s inconsistency we’re seeking, the key word might not be ‘white’. It might be ‘she’. In the 2013 Government report “Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System – A Ministry of Justice publication under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991” we read more.

Women go to prison less often than men:

 

 

That the crime was Woodward’s first was noted by the judge, who told her: “There are many mitigating features in your case. Principally, at the age of 24 you have no previous convictions of any nature whatsoever.”

The report states:

Offending histories: Female offenders were less likely than male offenders to have any previous cautions or convictions throughout the ten years from 2003 to 2013, with a third of females and only a fifth of males being first-time offenders in 2013.

Is Woodward likely to repeat her crime?

In the most recent period (2012), males (both adults and juveniles) re-offended at a higher rate than females (27.7% compared to 18.5%), and this has not changed over the past ten years.

 

 

And what about those mitigating factors? The judge told Woodward:

“There are many mitigating features in your case. Principally, at the age of 24 you have no previous convictions of any nature whatsoever. Secondly, I find that you were genuinely remorseful following this event and, indeed, it was against your bail conditions, you contacted your partner to fully confess your guilt and your deep sorrow for what happened.

“Thirdly, whilst you are a clearly highly-intelligent individual, you had an immaturity about you which was not commensurate for someone of your age. Fourthly, as the reports from the experts make clear, you suffer from an emotionally-unstable personality disorder, a severe eating disorder and alcohol drug dependence.

“Finally, and most significantly, you have demonstrated over the last nine months that you are determined to rid yourself of your alcohol and drug addiction and have undergone extensive treatment including counselling to address the many issues that you face. In particular, you have demonstrated to me since I adjourned this matter in May a strong and unwavering determination to do so despite the enormous pressure under which you were put and which has been referred to me by your counsel.”

Says the Government:

A case with many aggravating factors is dealt with more severely than a case with a few aggravating factors. These offenders are more likely to be sent to prison and more likely to be sent there for longer. Conversely, offenders with many mitigating factors taken into account in their case are less likely to be sent to prison.

If you satisfy the court that your sorry, well done:

 

 

 

And:

The type of sentence outcome given at court differs between male and female offenders and has also changed over time, due largely to the greater use of SSOs since 2005 when they became more readily available under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. As with the wider trend for all indictable offences (highlighted in the defendants’ chapter) there was also a decline in the proportion of community sentences over the time period.

The most common disposal given to male offenders across each of the four specified violence offences is now an immediate custodial sentence, with the proportion increasing over the last ten years for ABH and remaining stable for the other offences. By contrast the type of sentence outcome given to female offenders has differed for each of these four offences. In 2013, the most common disposal given for the offences of ABH and cruelty to or neglect of children was a community sentence, whilst for GBH without intent it was a SSO and for breach of a restraining order it came under the otherwise dealt with category.

Across each of these four offences, male offenders were around twice as likely to be given an immediate custodial sentence than female offenders. By contrast, a greater proportion of female offenders received less severe sentence outcomes.

Money matters, of course. But to argue that Lavinia Woodward’s case typifies the “racial inequality at the core of our justice system” is wrong. But there might be an argument to be made around gender…



Posted: 28th, September 2017 | In: Broadsheets, Key Posts, News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink