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Character References (ACT)

A well-written character reference will be invaluable to a person who is being sentenced by a court for criminal offences. A character reference can help the court appreciate your personal circumstances and the context in which you committed the offences from the perspective of the people who know you best. This article outlines what to consider when gathering character references for the court in the ACT.

Who should write a character reference?

Character references are most helpful when they are written by a person with good standing in the community or someone who is in an important position in the community, and the person has known you for a long time. This could be a community leader, a past or present employer, a teacher, doctor, priest or church leader, sports coach, a person involved in running a club or association, or even a family friend or neighbours.

While an employer might not be able to say much about an employee’s character, other than what they know from how the person behaves at work. However, a short letter from your employer can still be useful to show the court that you are currently working as this shows that you can act responsibly.

Family members can also provide references to help explain what problems an offender might have in their personal life and to show the court that they have their support in trying to turn things around.

What should a character reference include?

Character references should be addressed to the Presiding Magistrate (or Judge if you are in the District or Supreme Court). It should be typed or neatly handwritten. It should be dated and must be signed. It should provide contact details for the author.

A character reference should include the following information.

  • Who is providing the reference and, if relevant, their occupation and qualifications;
  • How they know you, how long they have known you and how regular your contact is with them;
  • That they are aware that you are being sentenced by the court and of the number and nature of the charge/s you face and the court that you are appearing in (ie. Magistrates Court, District Court or Supreme Court);
  • Whether you have discussed the charges with them and if so, what have you said;
  • Whether they are aware if there any personal problems that may have played a part in what you did – for example, drug or alcohol use, financial issues, or mental illness;
  • Whether you have expressed remorse for the offending;
  • Any steps you have taken to address your offending;
  • Any hardship or punishment you have experienced because of these offences – for example, did you lose your job?;
  • Any contribution you have made to your community by doing voluntary work, or special achievements you have had in your job or schooling, or sporting activities;
  • Why the person believes your offending behaviour is out of character based on what they know about you;
  • It is important to note that if you have a prior criminal record, the character reference should state that the writer is aware of your record and should not refer to your “prior good character” or your offending being out of character.

What should a character reference not do?

The purpose of a character reference is to provide the court with information about an offender’s circumstances and standing in the community. It is not to persuade the court of issues of law or to excuse the offender from responsibility for what they did.

For this reason, character references should not:

  • discuss legal matters;
  • say that you did not commit the offence;
  • blame the victim or other people for what happened;
  • try to make excuses for what you did or make guesses about why you behaved that way; or
  • suggest what specific penalty or outcome you should or should not receive.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Shay Duce - Senior Associate - Perth

This article was written by Shay Duce - Senior Associate - Perth

Shay graduated with a Bachelor of Laws with Honours from the Queensland University of Technology in 2004 and completed her Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at Griffith University in 2005. She was admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland in November 2005. Shay has practised in criminal law since she was admitted. Shay has worked as a defence lawyer and...

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