Lavinia Woodward: Class, Racial Injustice, and Judicial Reform Through Lenient Sentencing

[Published 27 September, 2017]

Earlier this week, Judge Ian Pringle, sitting at Oxford, UK, gave a Lavinia Woodward, an Oxford University student a suspended sentence.

The sentence was for the wounding of her then partner, in what is thought to have been an incident of a one off incident of aggression fuelled by alcohol and drugs.

In his sentencing and summation of the proceedings, Judge Pringle took into account Ms. Woodward’s age, her education, and having no previous convictions.

In previous cases, Pringle is known to be consistent and often lenient in his sentencing of similar cases involving young people and violent crime.

You might say, that Pringle is a reformist to some extent, having backed and participated in a campaign in 2015 to help keep young people out of court and criminal justice system, through education including court visits and learning about the judicial process.

Unfortunately, unlike in previous cases, where the defendant has had a mean age of 18, Ms. Woodward is 24 years of age. So, many have argued, should be sentenced as an adult; save her class, upbringing, and elite educational background.

Rightly so, many groups and individuals have suggested that these aspects of her life are the very things that saved her from a prison sentence. Thus adding weight to the view of White privilege and exceptionalism.

This response suggests that, a man — and particularly men from black and minority ethnic and/ or working class backgrounds — would have been treated less leniently.

The evidence available clearly suggests, that an 18–30 year old male in the UK, charged with any offence, violent or otherwise, particularly from a minority ethnic background, is far more likely to be charged, prosecuted, refused bail, sentenced, and given a longer sentence for the same or a similar crime than any other individual.

Erm, having read through some of the coverage and finer detail of his judgments, this is not the case and does not apply to Judge Pringle, but generally (with most other Judges) it would be a yes!

As the Lammy report recently stated, the fact remains, that in the UK court system, black and other minority ethnic males are often given more severe sentences; some times up to 52% more so.

The reasons for the discrepancy in sentencing are not clear, but we can hazard a good guess that racial prejudice, stereotyping, and cognitive bias all play a major part.

Perhaps more Judges should take Judge Pringle’s reformist approach.

Author: Jason Schumann


Originally published at debatingculture.wordpress.com on September 27, 2017.