Zenith Crime Current Awareness

​Lavinia Woodward – Two bites at the sentencing cherry?

12 December 2017

Ashleigh Metcalfe

On 25 September 2017 at Oxford Crown Court Lavinia Woodward fell to be sentenced for one offence of unlawfully and maliciously causing grievous bodily harm contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. During the hearing, HHJ Pringle QC passed a sentence of ten months’ imprisonment suspended for eighteen months. The sentence Miss Woodward received has sparked controversy in the media and we, perhaps, are soon to read and hear more about it.

Miss Woodward first appeared before HHJ Pringle QC on 6 April 2017 when she pleaded guilty at the plea and trial preparation hearing (PTPH). Under guidance at that time, her timely guilty plea afforded her maximum credit – that being one third off the inevitable sentence.

The Court on 6 April 2017 was unwilling to proceed immediately to sentence and granted Miss Woodward the opportunity to obtain a pre-sentence report. The Learned Judge indicated that he hoped the psychiatric report of Dr Hopley would be reflected within the contents of the PSR. The date of sentence was fixed for 12 May 2017.  

However, on 12 May 2017, having heard submissions from both parties HHJ Pringle QC considered it appropriate to defer passing Miss Woodward’s sentence for a period of approximately six months. He deferred sentence to allow Miss Woodward to:

  1. Continue her counselling;
  2. Demonstrate over a lengthier period of time that she had truly rid herself of her alcohol and Class A drug addiction. 

The decision to defer sentence is one that is appropriate in limited circumstances. For-example when the Learned Judge wishes to allow the Defendant an opportunity to adapt their behaviour in a way that is clearly specified by the sentencer and in doing so s/he may be minded to, at the sentencing hearing, impose a lesser sentence.

Upon Miss Woodward’s return to Court on 25 September 2017, with all the necessary documentation having been collated and after allowing Miss Woodward the opportunity to demonstrate to the Court her willingness to engage, HHJ Pringle QC was satisfied that he was able to sentence Miss Woodward accordingly.

When a Court is due to deal with an offence contrary to section 20 of the OAPA 1861 regard must always be had to the Sentencing College Guidelines for such an offence. The sentence range for a section 20 offence is from a Community Order up to four years’ custody.

A Court must place a Defendant within a category ranging from 1 – 3 depending upon whether a defendant demonstrates factors of greater/lesser harm and higher/lower culpability. In Miss Woodward’s case, HHJ Pringle QC determined that the offence facts fell within ‘lesser harm’ for the fact that the actual injuries were relatively minor and thereby ‘certainly less serious in the context of this offence’.  When determining Miss Woodward’s level of culpability, the possession and use of a weapon, namely a bread knife, meant that the offence fell within ‘higher culpability’. Accordingly, the offence was deemed to be a category 2 offence.

The sentencing starting point for a category 2 offence is a sentence of 1 year 6 months’ imprisonment. This is starting point applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions. That category range is between 1 years’ custody to 3 years’ custody.

The next exercise the Court undertakes is to determine whether there are any applicable aggravating or mitigating features of the case.

Despite there being no applicable statutory aggravating features, HHJ Pringle QC deemed the fact that Miss Woodward was heavily under the influence of alcohol as having aggravated the case.

HHJ Pringle QC concluded that there was an array of mitigating features, principally:

  • No previous convictions;
  • Genuine remorse (And despite it being against Miss Woodward’s bail condition she had contacted her ex-partner to confess her guilt in full and to show deep sorrow for what had happened);
  • The immaturity she had shown was not commensurate with someone of her age;
  • The expert reports showed that she suffered from an emotional unstable personality disorder, a severe eating disorder and was alcohol/drug dependant. Resulting directly from this, it was recognised that Miss Woodward had received extensive treatment and counselling to address those issues.

Given the above, HHJ Pringle QC passed a sentence of 10 months’ imprisonment which he suspended for a period of 18 months.

Any Court is able to suspend a period of imprisonment so long as the custodial term and operational period do not exceed 24 months.

If a Court deems it unjust in all the circumstances to pass an immediate custodial sentence, then provided the above is satisfied, the Court can suspend it.

Miss Woodward’s sentence fell within the range specified in the guidelines, and for the reasons outlined above, the Learned Judge felt it just to allow for the custodial term to be suspended.

However, as we recently saw in the media last week, Miss Woodward has sought permission to appeal against her sentence from the Court of Appeal. Save for that, we do not know anymore.

Very limited details have been published regarding Miss Woodward’s appeal application. Therefore, this is case that will require further in-depth commentary on once we know the outcome of either the application to apply for permission to appeal and/or the resulting appeal hearing. Watch this space ……….

Current Awareness

By the Crime team