The do's and don'ts of character references
Whether you have a solicitor representing you, or whether you are representing yourself, it is really important to put forward a strong case to the court after pleading or being found guilty of an offence. In the Local Court, it is commonplace to hand up a character reference from someone who knows you well.
A character reference is a letter written to the court from a friend, relative, employer, colleague, community leader or similar person. Courts see character references in a large proportion of matters. For that reason, it is important to put forward a reference that has impact and is meaningful to the court. The best references come from a respected member of the community – because of their status in the community, the court can be assured that what they are saying has real value.
- The letter should be addressed to ‘the Presiding Magistrate’ at the local court where the matter is being heard
- It should refer to the charges – it is important for the magistrate to know that the referee is aware of the context in which they are giving the reference – it means that the things that the person says about you have more meaning and are more reliable
- It should be direct and to the point. Courts are very busy and the magistrate has limited time to allocate to each matter
- It should set out how long the person has known you and in what capacity. It should refer to your good qualities with examples to support. In some circumstances, depending on who the referee is, it could include details of any hardship you have suffered in the past or in the context of the offences, if this is known to the referee
- It should refer to any community service or volunteer work you have undertaken
- It should be honest. It should only refer to things the reference writer knows to be true. This includes any reference to your remorse or rehabilitation
- It should be signed and dated by the person making the statement.
- It should not include any information that the referee does not personally know
- It should not be informal or disrespectful to the magistrate or the prosecution or police, use slang or swear words
- It should not be dishonest or misleading, for instance, if you have a criminal history, the referee should not say that the current offences are out of character. If they do, the court may consider the reference to be unreliable
- It should not comment on your guilt or innocence, make suggestions as to the penalty to be imposed or make excuses for your behaviour.
This information is provided as a general guide only.