News broke this week that the Oxford University student who stabbed her boyfriend in the leg with a breadknife was spared jail because the judge branded her “too clever”.

Lavinia Woodward, a medical student and aspiring surgeon, attacked her ex-boyfriend Thomas Fairclough in the leg with the knife as well as a glass, a jam jar and a laptop in a drug-fuelled rage at her university accommodation at Oxford University on 30 December last year. Judge Ian Pringle QC previously said a jail sentence was “too severe” for Woodward because it could ruin her medical career. He also added that the actions of the “extraordinary able young lady” appeared to be a “complete one-off”.

He also claimed he found Woodward to be “genuinely remorseful”, stating that she had “an immaturity” about her which was not commensurate for someone of her age. According to court documents, Woodward had been suffering from a personality disorder, a severe eating disorder and alcohol and drug dependence, all of which she had undergone extensive treatment for.

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The case has sparked widespread debate over the inequality of our criminal justice system.

Campaigners today argued she was treated sympathetically because of her background, while others argued the case showed the difference in sentencing between men and women when it comes to violent offences.

Under UK law, Woodward’s crimes carries a maximum jail sentence of five years – with a sentencing range from three to 16 years. Woodward was sentenced to 10 months in prison suspended for 18 months.

If we compare Woodward’s case to others of a similar nature, it is very telling. Twenty-three-year-old Christopher Eadie left his 34-year-old victim with facial injuries after he punched him in the face and threatened him with a kitchen knife at a party in October 2013. Despite writing a letter of apology to the court, he was sentenced by a judge to 21 months in prison. 

In another incident, 27-year-old Fintan Burke was jailed for six years after kicking a woman in the face and breaking her eye socket in July 2016. Officers dealing with the case said the sentencing showed “that domestic offences will not be tolerated in our communities”.

And elsewhere, Peter Edwards, from Lowestoft, was sentenced to four years and three months for assaulting and stabbing his partner in January of this year.

While the cases can seem very similar in nature, the sentences handed out depend heavily on which category they fall into in conjunction with the sentencing guidelines. With Woodward’s case, hers fell into a category which describes great harm but lower culpability, despite the offence being of higher culpability. Yes, she used a weapon. Yes, she caused injury – but on the other hand, the judge felt there was lack of premeditation and she had evidence of good character.

She expressed guilt and remorse for her actions and, according to the judge’s sentencing remarks, she showed determination to face her issues by undergoing counselling for her drug and alcohol dependency.

There’s no denying that Woodward could run into trouble at a later date if she does continue to pursue her medical career. I can’t see any hospital or NHS hiring her after this, and if they do, they’d presumably take a long, hard look at her conviction. I wouldn’t feel comfortable being operated on by a heart surgeon who apparently doesn’t hesitate to use sharp objects as weapons.

By all means we should take into consideration the hardship and troubled background Woodward has had to face, but there’s no denying that this also looks a lot like another case of a privileged kid committing a crime and getting away with it. If only we were all made equal, eh?

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