Oxford Crown Court, where Judge Pringle issued Woodward's lenient sentence based on her "extraordinary" talent KAIHSU TAI

The relatively minor injuries Lavinia Woodward inflicted on her boyfriend, her troubled past, and her problem with substance abuse are all credible reasons for keeping her out of prison. Her future as a doctor? Absolutely not. Her mitigating circumstances should not include her apparent intellect and bright future – other women sentenced for similar crimes also had futures. It just happened that those futures didn’t involve becoming an Oxford-educated heart surgeon.

Woodward unlawfully stabbed, punched and threw items at her boyfriend, a Cambridge student visiting her at Oxford. Judge Pringle postponed her sentencing, and four months later she was given only a suspended sentence of ten months’ imprisonment.

Judge Pringle’s justification for this relatively lenient sentence largely rested on Woodward being “an extraordinarily able young lady” whose prevention from entering the medical profession would be “too severe” for this “one-off.” This judgement is extremely damaging, regardless of whether Pringle meant to identify Woodward’s intelligence as a factor in his decision. It implies that cleverness allows somebody to break the law, pose a threat to society, and get away with it.

“However domestic violence is addressed by legislators and judges, it should be done without regard to educational privilege”

Fair or not, Oxbridge students are already perceived as having too much. There is an eagerness to demonise Oxbridge students for being entitled and naïve. For instance, the Daily Mail very recently called Cambridge students “snowflakes” for wanting the option to opt-out from class lists, although few other universities still publicly display names rather than ID numbers alongside grades. If now we can essentially receive a ‘get out of jail free’ card as a result of our educational privilege, the perceived void between Oxbridge and the rest of the world will only widen.

Despite Woodward’s history of drug abuse and domestic violence in a past relationship, these factors were not what kept her out of prison. If they were, the 46% of women currently in prison who have suffered from domestic violence arguably would not be there. Women in prison are five times more likely to have mental health issues than women in the general population. If these were the reasons Woodward was spared jail, far fewer women would be in prison.

Woodward had access to a first-class criminal lawyer, whose other clients include celebrities from the sporting world. Many people in similar situations would not have the financial resources to be defended by someone of his calibre. It is entirely unfair that Woodward be treated comparatively lightly as a result of her lawyer’s strength, which she could only tap into due to her family’s wealth.

Most salient to Woodward’s particular case, however, is the near-total lack of attention on her victim. Domestic violence is an underreported, horrendously prevalent crime; an average of two women are killed every week by a partner or an ex. In particular, domestic violence against men is all too frequently ignored – Woodward’s sentence is both symptomatic of this attitude and works to perpetuate it. This attitude has resulted in the lack of refuges for male victims of domestic violence nationally - there are only eighteen, with none at all in London.


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Mountain View

Oxford student who stabbed Cambridge boyfriend may be spared jail

The sadness of Woodward’s case should not be overlooked – a traumatic past of abuse and drugs culminating in her stabbing her boyfriend. These mitigating factors should obviously have been taken into account when determining her sentence. But many other women with pasts of an equal or even more traumatic nature have been given far harsher sentences. Whether or not Woodward should have gone to prison is not really for me to say. However domestic violence is addressed by legislators and judges, it should be done without regard to educational privilege.

Judge Pringle’s decision to comment on Woodward’s intelligence and her future as a doctor while he handed down her suspended sentence only perpetuates inequality in the legal system, and adds to resentment against Oxbridge students by giving them special and very unfair privileges. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this sentence undermines the seriousness of domestic violence against men by refusing to treat Woodward stabbing her boyfriend as a threatening, violent act.

Woodward deserves a second chance no more than every other woman currently in prison who has the same troubled past, but less money and privilege, than her. If she’s not going to jail, fine – they shouldn’t have either

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