Prisoners Dilemma…

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As you might imagine, a lot of people are up-in-arms about this extremely unusual situation.

It would be easy – it was my own gut reaction – to say that Lavinia Woodward should be in prison. Almost certainly, if she was the dirt-poor denizen of a run-down urban estate, she would this morning be eating corporation porridge.

And if it were a man – even one with as much charm and potential as this woman – who were charged with stabbing his girlfriend, do we think there’s the faintest chance he’d have experienced such leniency from a judge? Do we even think his sentence would be as short as this woman’s suspended sentence of 10 months?

Indeed the bigger question is not “should this woman be in prison?”

When I answer “hell yes” to that question, I’m actually answering the more fundamental question “should this woman be treated the same as a man would be, or as a woman of a different social class would be?”

To which the answer is unequivocally “hell yes!”

And yet when we examine this case, and what this woman did – in so far as we can do from newspaper reports (see Gell Mann Amnesia) – it is extremely difficult conclude that she received equal treatment before the law.

The New Statesman wheeled out a “Secret Barrister” to explain to us simpletons why this was not “Toff Justice”.

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If it sounds odd that a left-wing title would do such a thing, remember that the New Statesman’s ulterior motive is, as always, to justify, protect and further the interests of its privileged middle-class demographic of Oxbridge educated professionals with all the right views.

This “barrister” makes a narrowly procedural argument regarding how the judge arrived at his sentencing decision, and that’s all perfectly fine but this straw-man argument ignores the central point, and utterly fails to prove the headline’s assertion.  The  writer’s conclusion:

“for the reasons above, there appears nothing unusual, and indeed much humane, about the approach taken in this case.”

All this writer succeeds in showing is that this is how justice should work, and that Lavinia Woodward’s experience is in line with legal process. S/he completely fails to show that anyone other than Lavinia Woodward could expect to see such accomodating treatment from a judge.

It is unavoidable that the writer, in showing how sentencing guidelines were interpreted, explains that the judge has used his discretion. And that is the central point. Are we expected to believe that the judge’s spectacles really would have been so rose-tinted in any other case?

If nothing else, would anyone of a lesser social or economic standing have been able to avail themselves of the services of “top barrister” James Sturman QC? Would they be able to retreat to their mother’s home in Milan during their stay of execution?

Or would they be subject to the ever diminishing services of Legal Aid, and perhaps be in the bosom of a less indulgent family?

In fact, I’d be amazed if elsewhere in the New Statesman there wasn’t an article framing this as a question of class, inequality, and the diminishing access to justice for all, the latter being the most shameful stain on the Tories’ record in power this century.

Unsurprisingly, an investigation was opened into the conduct of the judge after a complaint was lodged with the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO). However, in less time than it would take most of us to find a meeting room to discuss the matter, the complaint was dismissed on a technicality.

Perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath for the toxic feminist Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to launch an appeal against the lenient sentence.

The only aspect of this story that has yet to conclude is the question of whether Oxford University will allow her to resume her studies. Unless she decides to spare the University the dilemma by going elsewhere, I think I know what the outcome will be.



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