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Character References for Court

If you have entered a plea of guilty to a criminal offence or have been found guilty after a hearing or trial, a Magistrate or Judge will conduct a sentencing hearing to determine the appropriate penalty to impose.

One of the factors that the Magistrate or Judge will take into account in determining the appropriate penalty is your remorse and contrition, that is, how sorry you are for what you have done. You can appropriately convey your feelings to the Court by writing an apology letter.

You should consider the advice below when you are writing your apology letter to the Court. I should say that there is no one right way to write your apology letter. There is no such thing as a perfect apology letter. The most important thing is that you are sincere and genuine and the words in the letter are your own.

What format should I use?

Your apology letter should be in standard letter format and be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate” or “The Presiding Judge”, depending on whether your matter is being dealt with in the Local or District Court.

If you refer to the Magistrate or Judge within the body of your letter, you should refer to them as “Your Honour.”

You should use full sentences and paragraphs and not dot points.

You must include your full name at the end of the letter. You should then print out the letter and sign it. The letter that is tendered to the Magistrate or Judge must be the document with the original signature on it.

Whilst it is true that there is no perfect format to use, I have included some general do’s and don’ts below for you to keep in mind when writing your apology letter.


  • Apologise for the offence.
  • Refer to the offence specifically. Referring to the offence as ‘my mistake’ or ‘this incident’ is vague, and unhelpful. It also makes you sound insincere or if you are avoiding the responsibility.
  • Support what you say with examples. Every person who finds themselves in Court will say: “I won’t do it again”. Detail is the key to the Magistrate or Judge believing you. What have you done since the offence to ensure that you won’t find yourself in the same position? Alternatively, if you do find yourself in that position, why you will act in a different way?
  • Be sincere. Your letter does not have to have perfect grammar and punctuation. It does however, need to be in your own words. Any insincerity will be plainly obvious to the Magistrate or Judge reading it and will cause them to question how remorseful you really are.


  • Make submissions. For example: you do not need to tell the Magistrate or Judge you have never been in trouble before. They will have a copy of your criminal history in front of them and will be able to see that themselves.
  • Argue your case. It is inappropriate for your apology letter to ask for a particular outcome or even suggest to the Magistrate or Judge why you should be given a particular outcome. You should remember that an apology letter should be exactly that, an apology.
  • Use a template. Magistrates and Judges deal with dozens of matters each day. If you find and use a template, you can be sure that the Magistrate or Judge would have seen that same template dozens, if not hundreds of times before. This will cause them to doubt your sincerity.

Image Credit – Andrea De Martin ©

Written by Amanda Tsang on May 26, 2018

Having worked exclusively in criminal and traffic law, Amanda understands that those who come to Armstrong Legal do so at a difficult time. She understands that criminal offences have wide reaching consequences for all clients. As such, she is dedicated to using her knowledge and skills to obtain the best result possible in every case. View Amanda's profile

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