When a person is charged with a criminal or traffic offence, they are entitled to have
their side of the story heard. In Australia, character references are a good way to explain
to a judge or magistrate all of the person’s positive attributes to give the court a greater
insight into their personal circumstances.
When choosing a referee, it is important to choose a person who is close enough to you
to provide both a detailed explanation of your character and the issues presented by
the charge. This might include family members, co-workers or friends.
A character reference can be a very effective tool for persuading a court to make decisions
which are favourable for the offender. A well-written and detailed character reference may impact
upon the final decision that is made and, ultimately, the penalty that is handed down.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of what you can and cannot include.
There is no one standard way in which a character reference should be written, but some general
rules do apply. A character reference: must be typed
should include a signature and date should, if possible, be printed on letterhead
must be addressed to the appropriate person, such as ‘the Presiding Magistrate’.
Any further references to the magistrate or judge in the character reference must start
with ‘Your Honour’.
When writing a character reference, you need to take care with what you include so you
do not make things worse for the offender. Be thoughtful when writing about prior offences
that the offender has committed. Don’t try to suggest the kind of penalty
the offender should receive. Don’t write general statements about the
offender – you must be specific. Don’t lie in a character reference – it
is a crime to deceive the court and you may find yourself in trouble.
Don’t make formal suggestions or speeches. Don’t be critical of the court, or the magistrate
or judge. Instead:
Be courteous at all times. Introduce yourself, state your occupation
and qualifications and establish that you are of good character.
Indicate that you are aware of the offence that the offender has committed.
Include specific details of the offender’s character and details of your relationship
with the offender. Include details of the positive aspects of
the offender’s personality. If you believe the offence was a one-off incident,
you should say so. Include details of any unfavourable consequences
the offender will experience as a result of conviction.
You should tailor your letter to the particular offender and to the particular charge. For
example, if the offender has been charged with drink driving offences, your character
reference will need to set out issues relating to drinking. It may explain how the offender
is trying to be more responsible with their alcohol consumption, the steps they are taking
to ensure the incident does not happen again, or that they acknowledge that drink driving
is a mistake. You may also wish to detail the personal consequences that the offender
will experience as a result of losing their licence.
If the offender has been charged with, for example, an assault offence, the character
reference should, if possible, set out details indicating that the offender is generally
of a non-violent nature, how the offender has previously interacted with family and
friends, and other details that will demonstrate to the court that the offender is not a threat
to the community. A character reference for someone facing drug
charges should focus on the rehabilitation of the offender. The reference may detail
steps the offender has taken to stop using drugs and whether the offender has family
or friends who can act as a support base going forward.
If you or someone you know has been charged with an offence and you are not sure of what
is involved in arranging a character reference, a solicitor can assist you. You may also wish
to seek advice about court appearances, penalties and possible defences that are involved with
your case. It is important to obtain legal advice quickly.
Go To Court Lawyers operate a Legal Hotline on 1300 636 846 where you can talk directly
to a lawyer 7am - midnight, 7 days/week. Your call will be treated with the strictest confidentiality
and without judgement.
The lawyer will assess your matter and recommend a course of action.
Should you need a Court lawyer, even if it is at very short notice, the Legal Hotline
staff will be able to arrange legal representation for you. You can also request a call back
via the website gotocourt.com.au and a lawyer will call you back to assess your matter.