Writing a Character Reference for Court

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.