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How to Write a Character Reference for Court


Providing the court with a genuine and effective character reference is an excellent way to increase your chance of obtaining a favourable result. It is not an easy task as a good reference must comply with the relevant legal formalities and also paint a succinct and favourable impression of the defendant without sounding like every other reference. This post provides you with information to assist you in writing an effective character reference.

Character references can be provided to the court when a defendant pleads guilty to an offence. The character reference is evidence used to demonstrate that the offence is out of character, that the defendant has made themselves accountable to the person writing the reference and to provide crucial evidence about the impact of a conviction, penalty or loss of licence.

The legal formalities that should be complied with when drafting a character reference include:

  • Addressing the reference to, “The Presiding Magistrate” or “The Presiding Judge” and including the relevant court (for example, “The Presiding Magistrate, Downing Centre Local Court” or “The Presiding Judge, Parramatta District Court”);
  • Ensuring the reference is signed and dated; and
  • Explicitly refer to the specific offence or offences with which the defendant is pleading guilty rather than a general recognition of the charge (for example, “I am aware Mr Smith is pleading guilty to Possess Prohibited Drug” rather than “I am aware of the current charge”).

When writing a character reference you should:

  • Be short and succinct (half a page to a page);
  • Explain how the referee knows the defendant and for how long;
  • Include and acknowledgement about the specific offence and any criminal history;
  • Explain the circumstances of the offence but never seek to make excuses or argue that the defendant is not guilty of the offence;
  • Include details about why they believe the offence is out of character and observations of the defendant’s remorse for the offence;
  • Include any details about the impact of a conviction, penalty, gaol or loss of licence; and
  • Reflect on why they believe the defendant won’t commit the offence again, drawing on conversations or other events.

Generally speaking, it is best practice to obtain no more than two to three references for a Local Court sentence. More references can be obtained for a District Court sentence. It is preferable to have a reference from a direct employee who is made aware of the offence, particularly if a conviction, loss of licence or particularly penalty will affect employment or the business. A personal reference from a family member is also a good idea. Parents and partners are not excluded from providing references and often they are the best people to provide a reference, provided they express they do not condone the offending.

Image Credit – Nonwarit Pruetisirirot © 123RF.com

Written by Trudie Cameron on May 6, 2018

Trudie combines her impressive skills in advocacy and legal analysis with a focus on her client's interests and wellbeing. Her experience working for senior barristers prior to starting at Armstrong Legal gives her a unique insight into criminal advocacy and practice. View Trudie's profile


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