What is a character reference?
A character reference is a letter demonstrating your considered and informed view of the person appearing before the court. Character references for court should be signed, dated, typed, as well as being original and thoughtful.
For a person appearing before the court, presenting a character reference letter (also known as a personal reference letter) can help the court appreciate your unique situation and the context in which you committed the offences.
Examples of people who can provide a personal reference letter include:
- Anyone who knows you well
- An employer
- An old family friend
- A family member
- Your priest
How to write a character reference for court
It may be that someone has approached you to write a character letter on their behalf as they are appearing before the court. If so, there are some important points to remember:
The reference letter should be typed on a letterhead and should state any formal positions or qualifications
Providing a professional format is important to communicate the professionalism of the reference. If possible, use an official or business letterhead and state your position or quialifications. This will provide weight to the content in your reference.
The reference letter must be signed and dated
Signing and dating the reference will demontrate how relevant and up to date the document is. This will also show the Magistrate or Judge that it was especially written for the case.
The reference letter should be addressed to the right person
In order to properly address the reference letter to the correct person, you will need to know which court will be hearing the defendant's case. The reference letter should be addressed to the Presiding Magistrate (if the matter is listed in the Magistrates’ court) or the Presiding Judge (if the matter is listed in the County or Supreme courts).
The reference letter should commence with “Your Honour”
Start the letter with "Your Honour". This replaces the salutation in a standard letter where you would normally put "Dear Sir" / "Dear Madam".
The reference letter should include detailed information about the person's character
The better you are able to illustrate the person’s character through unique details and anecdotes, the more help the personal reference letter will be when the person appears before the court. You should start by including the following information:
- How long you have known the person and in what capacity, and how often you have contact
- That you know what the person has been charged with and what they have done
- Whether you have spoken to the person in detail about the offence
- Your opinion of the person’s general character and reputation in the community
- Do you believe the offences were out of character and why?
- Has the person shown remorse for the offence? Include an explanation of how you know the person is sorry, for example, the person has explicitly told you this, has demonstrated signs of distress or is having trouble sleeping
- Details of what you know about the person’s background including family, education and employment history
- Does the person have any personal problems that you know of, especially those that may have contributed to the offence being committed? For example: drug or alcohol abuse, or psychological and other problems. State whether the person has taken any action to overcome these problems
- Has the person made any special contribution to the community such as charity work?
- Has the person suffered any other hardship as a consequence of committing the offense, such as losing a job, loss of reputation, or being disgraced in the community or amongst friends and family?
If the court matter relates to a driving offence you should also refer to:
- Your knowledge of the person’s driving record, and
- The reasons why the person needs a license and/or the consequences of the person losing a license
Luke is the National General Manager of Personal Legal Services, including Crime and Regulation, Family Law and Succession.