Anyone recall the immortal words of Mr Justice Caulfield, the judge at Jeffrey Archer’s libel trial against the Daily Star in 1987, in reference to Mrs Archer’s appearance in the witness-box? Let me remind you: ‘Your vision of her will never disappear,’ he said in his instructions to the jury. ‘Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? Would she have, without the strain of this trial, radiance?’ Before the sick bucket could be passed around the jury quickly enough, he expressed his evident incredulity that someone of Mr Archer’s standing would pay a prostitute to go abroad and not broadcast their illicit union to all and sundry. ‘Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel about quarter-to-one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?’ he asked. Perish the thought!
With such blatant directing of the jury by Mr Justice Caulfield, it was no wonder Archer got off first time round. However, as we all know, in 2001 Archer was found guilty of perjury and perverting the course of justice at his original 1987 trial and received a four-year sentence (half of which was served). At the 1987 trial, the judge’s aghast attitude at the very suggestion such a prominent member of the establishment might enjoy an extra-marital affair with a common girl on the game doesn’t so much imply naivety as articulate an in-built refusal to accept that ‘one of ours’ could be capable of such sleazy activities, especially one married to a lady as ‘fragrant’ as Mrs Archer.
Similar prejudices had been aired at the trial of another high-profile politician eighteen years earlier, Jeremy Thorpe. Despite leaving many questions unanswered regarding the conspiracy to murder the ex-Liberal leader’s clandestine gay lover Norman Scott, Thorpe was found not guilty, with the judge referring to Thorpe as ‘a national figure with a very distinguished public record’ and a man of ‘hitherto unblemished reputation’. Scott, on the other hand, was ‘a fraud, a sponger, a whiner and a parasite’. As Stephen Fry said retrospectively, ‘It is fantastic how judges still have this extraordinary propensity to believe someone because they have an Old Etonian tie or because they’re a peer of the realm or because they are the establishment.’
A very different kind of case was reported this week that shone another unflattering light on how looks and, to use a very old-fashioned phrase, ‘breeding’ can have an impact on the path of justice when our faultless legal system is confronted by a crime whose perpetrator doesn’t fit the necessary profile. It concerns a very pretty and photogenic blonde-haired blue-eyed girl.
Lavinia Woodward is a 24-year-old student at Christ Church College, Oxford whose ultimate aim is to become a surgeon. She is described as ‘bright’, someone who already has articles published in medical journals to her name. The only obstacle to the glittering future ahead of her is the fact that she attacked her boyfriend in a vicious outburst whilst off her tits last September. She hurled a glass, a laptop and a jam jar at him before punching him in the face and topping off the attack by stabbing him in the leg with a breadknife. Quite a serious assault one would imagine and one worthy of at least a custodial sentence. Hold on a mo, though.
Judge Ian Pringle is of the opinion that any sentence arising from the incident would be unfair due to the possibility it might ruin her intended career. ‘It seems to me that if this was a one-off,’ he said, ‘to prevent this extraordinarily able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to, would be a sentence which would be too severe.’ Her defence barrister pleaded that his client’s dreams of being a surgeon would be ‘almost impossible’ to fulfil due to the necessary disclosure of any conviction of this nature when applying for such a post. Christ Church itself clearly holds no grudges, as it has allowed her to return in the autumn because she’s apparently ‘that bright’. Woodward isn’t due to be sentenced until September, though the most she has received as a result of what she did is a restraining order whilst being advised to stay ‘drug free’. It certainly appears, going by the judge’s comments, anyway, that Miss Woodward could well be spared a sentence.
What if Lavinia Woodward hadn’t been regarded as an ‘extraordinarily able young lady’ and perhaps stacked shelves in a supermarket, with no greater career prospects to look forward to than promotion to the tills? Would the likelihood of being spared a sentence for such a serious assault as stabbing someone in the leg with a breadknife be on the cards then? Or what if she was a he? Going by the atmosphere on many university campuses these days, I somehow don’t feel that a male student attacking his girlfriend with a breadknife would be welcomed back to any seat of learning after being in court on such a charge, do you? I suspect there’d be one or two demonstrations objecting to his return and numerous social media campaigns to prevent it.
Now, of course, none of us other than Miss Woodward and her unfortunate ex know the true ins and outs of what happened last September; we only know what’s been reported in the press and media. I’m not of the ‘hanging’s too good for ‘em’ opinion when it comes to crime and punishment, and Lavinia Woodward definitely sounds as if she needs some form of drug rehabilitation, not to mention anger management; that in the long run could achieve far more for her as a person than prison.
If what she did results in a spell behind bars and, as a consequence, this means she can’t achieve her dreams of becoming a surgeon, yes, that’s tough; but she should be given equal billing in the eyes of the law, on the same level as anyone else, regardless of sex or background. She committed a serious crime and should receive adequate punishment for it, just like a less ‘bright’ individual charged with the same crime would. But that’s not how the law works where the extraordinarily able and fragrant are concerned, alas.
© The Editor