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How to write an effective character reference

Writing an effective character reference is easy when you follow these rules.

We have discovered that a well drafted Court character reference can have an impact upon the sentence that is imposed by the Court. We believe that a Court character reference must paint a picture of the character of the person it is written about.

Don’t Say General Things Like…

Most Court character references make statements like this: “James Brown is hardworking, energetic and generous with his time and money.” We believe that these references have very little impact upon the sentence imposed by the Court. Some magistrates have been known to comment that they have never read a bad character reference.

Bring the Person’s Character to Life

You can use examples, illustrations and stories to bring to life the character of a person, for example:

“James Brown is very generous with his time and his money. I remember driving home and seeing our elderly neighbour struggling to remove graffiti from his fence. James went quiet and when we returned home he went missing for a while. About 1 hour later I saw James with our elderly neighbour scrubbing the graffiti from the fence with solvents and equipment that he had purchased from the hardware store. James spent the next 4 hours with our neighbour until it was all removed. This is just one example of how James demonstrates his generosity and compassion to others.”

How the Character Reference Should Be Set Out

  • For a Local Court, the character reference should be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate.” For a District or Supreme Court, address it to “The Presiding Judge.”
  • The salutation (where you would normally put Dear Sir / Dear Madam) should be “Your Honour.”
  • The reference should be typed.
  • The reference should be on official letterhead, if possible.
  • The reference should indicate how long you have known the person.
  • The reference should indicate that you are aware that the person has been charged with the specific offence they have been charged with.
  • Ask the person whether they have been charged with a similar offence previously. We will not be able to use the reference if you state that the offence is totally out of character if our client has been convicted with similar offences in the past.
  • If the person has expressed remorse for what they have done or suffered anxiety as a result of being charged by police, then you should comment on your observations.
  • If you are aware of any personal circumstances that may have contributed to the commission of  the offence, you should state these, but be careful not to shift the blame onto others.

Traffic Matters

  • If you are aware of any difficulties that may be suffered by the person as a result of a loss of licence please state these.
  • If you are the person’s employer and their loss of licence will impact upon your business, please state this. If the person will lose their job as a result of losing their licence, or if they have it suspended, you must clearly state this. Please do not be vague as to what may occur in the future.

What Should Not Be in a Character Reference.

  • Do not suggest the penalty to be imposed.
  • Do not be critical of the law or of the victim.
  • Do not make comments like “I ask the court to look inside them…”
  • Do not say anything that is not true. It is an offence to mislead the Court.
  • Do not make submissions or speeches.

Examples of Character References

Click on a thumbnail below to view a full sized example of a Character Reference letter.



Obtaining The Ultimate Result – a Section 10 Dismissal

A section 10 is an order by the court dismissing an offence after someone has pleaded guilty or been found guilty.  For advice on the chances of obtaining a section 10 please call us on 9261 4555.


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