Last December, Lavinia Woodward threw a laptop at her boyfriend and stabbed him in the lower leg with a breadknife, and injured two of his fingers. She then tried to stab herself with the knife before he disarmed her.
For unlawful wounding, this medical student at Christchurch Oxford, could have got a three-year prison sentence; instead she got a 10-month sentence suspended for 18 months on Monday. The judge, Ian Pringle, when he first heard the case, observed that a custodial sentence would harm her career. Quite. And he declared, as he handed down the suspended sentence, that there were 'many, many mitigating factors' in the case, and the injuries inflicted were 'relatively minor'. Indeed so, though I’m not sure that I’d want a heart surgeon – Miss Woodward’s intended career – to have quite her impulsive temperament.
Lavinia Woodward, I may say, is blonde and attractive and bears, in fact, more than a passing resemblance to the lovely Rosalie Dawn in The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s, who, when the pupils are on trial for arson, passes her telephone number to Judge Slender and gives him a come-hither look, so when sentence is passed, the judge duly ignores the verdict and sends the girls off to be rehabilitated. I am sorry to say this episode came instantly to mind after the earlier judgment.
Judge Pringle is not of course Judge Slender, so it would be wrong to suggest he found Miss Woodward attractive. But he may well have found her not wholly remote from his own circle. Lavinias are not uncommon in the class from which silks are mostly drawn and Oxbridge people are the norm. When he described her as 'an extraordinary able young lady' he spoke as one who probably mixes with people like Miss Woodward’s parents. The 'there but for the grace of God' sentiment is readily elicited when you feel that those concerned are identifiable in a way that, say, overweight underclass girls from south London are not.
And that, of course is why there has been such a strong response to Judge Pringle’s compassionate approach. It’s not that we disagree that the quality of mercy should not be strained, just that it should fall impartially on the attractive, blonde, slim and articulate and the fat, dark and monosyllabic alike. And we strongly suspect that, right now, it doesn’t.