Judging the Judges
A Crown Court judge faces investigation after he was reported saying: a drug addict, Oxford University student, who stabbed her boyfriend was too intelligent to go to prison. Just how biassed is the judicial system against anyone who isn't rich or privileged?
Do the crime, do the time? Unless you’re too bright to go to prison. Why some people get away with it?
Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. The criminal justice system came under the microscope this week as one violent drug addict who stabbed a man was told she could walk free.
Lavinia Woodward is an Oxford University medical student, who got high on drink and drugs before attacking her boyfriend, punching him in the face, throwing a computer at him and slashing his leg and hand with a bread knife.
She was convicted of unlawful wounding, contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.
But His Honour Judge Ian Pringle QC concluded it would be a shame to send Lavinia to prison. He said:
“To prevent this extraordinary able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the [medical] profession… would be a sentence which would be too severe.” (Source: Mail Online).
So, he gave her a suspended 10-month sentence and she walked free.
What if she were a working class girl, employed in a shop and not a high flying would-be doctor, presumably it would not be too severe to lock her up?
The judge is literally describing one rule for the rich and privileged and another rule for everybody else.
I can reveal the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office has received a formal complaint about Judge Pringle. Any possible findings of misconduct will be published at a later date.
Perhaps Judge Pringle saw a girl who could be his daughter? Posh, from a good family, well educated, privileged. I wonder how many times judges are so lenient on other offenders.
Here are the figures:-
Last year, 2,879 adults aged 21 or older were sentenced for the same offence of unlawful wounding. 55% were given immediate custodial sentences. 39% had their sentences suspended. And 6% were give community orders and other punishments.
So, Miss Woodward’s sentence statistically is not that unusual, but it does highlight shocking injustices, especially if you break down the figures by gender.
Men convicted of this offence are twice as likely (57%) to be sent to prison as women (31%).
If Lavinia were called Larry and HE had punched and stabbed his girlfriend, he would not have walked free.
The Sentencing Council issues guidelines to judges, who must assess the level of harm caused by the offence and the level of culpability of the offender.
In this case, the stab wounds were not severe. This is called “lesser harm”.
But attacking someone wildly with a bread knife is high culpability.
So, this case had lesser harm and higher culpability, for which the guideline is between 18 months and three years in prison.
But the judge has full discretion to suspend any sentence below two years. And this is what he did.
So, what if Ms Woodward were black? The recent report by David Lammy MP found blacks are more harshly treated at virtually every stage of the criminal justice system. It’s fair to say a black Lavinia would be behind bars.
I propose the Ministry of Justice routinely publishes detailed statistics on every judge, to list the outcomes of every offence they consider.
This government is keen on league tables for schools, hospitals and surgeons. So, let’s have more transparency, so we can judge the judges.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.