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Take Home Message

A character reference is very important in criminal and traffic law matters regardless of which court the matter is being heard. A well-written character reference can positively influence an outcome.

With this in mind, it’s important that you know how to write a character reference for court.

Most importantly ensure that the person you are writing the reference for has legal representation. If they do not encourage them to contact one of our lawyers at Law By Dan. We have lawyers in all locations across Australia. Then upon writing a draft character reference you can send it to their lawyer and seek feedback before submitting a final copy.

If you want, you can download a copy of our “How to Write a Character Reference for Court” here.

If not, let’s get started.

The Fundamentals of How to Write a Character Reference for Court

When it comes to how to write a character reference for court the number one rule is that it has to sound authentic. The character reference should not be the stock standard, “he is a hard-working good man with strong ethics” etc. You need to place yourself in the mind of the Judge or Magistrate and think about the most important things you could possibly say that will the Court a different view of the person they have before them.

Consider this. If the person who you have been asked to write a character reference has been charged with assault, then all the court will know is about the facts of that charge. Your job is to put a broader view to the Court about this person.

For example:

“I’ve known Andrew for 15 years. He worked for me as a mechanic from 2009 to 2017. During that time, I recall numerous occasions where he went over and above just being a typical employee. These occasions revealed to me his generous and charitable nature. For example, I recall one day him working a number of hours overtime to help an elderly man have his vehicle completed for a trip he was taking the next day. There were other occasions as well where I saw Andrew’s generosity…..In this context, I was shocked to hear of the charges that are before the Court and can only conclude that such charges are not of his true character but rather completely uncharacteristic actions…”

Who Should Write a Character Reference?

It goes without saying that a character reference needs to be written by someone who not only knows the person that has been charged, but also has known them for a considerable period of time.

Typically, character references are written by:

  • Good friends or family members;
  • Current or former employers;
  • Teachers/Academics/Lecturers;
  • Community members;
  • Support person or counsellors

Some Useful Rules on How To Write A Character Reference For Court

Set it Out Properly

If the person is appearing in the Local or Magistrates Court, the character reference should be addressed to the “Presiding Judge” in the case of the Local Court, and the “Presiding Magistrate” in the Magistrates Court.

In Queensland, if the person is appearing in a higher Court like the District or Supreme Court, address the letter to the “Presiding Judge,” followed by the address of the court.

Then you would address the Magistrate or Judge with “Dear Your Honour” and would use this title throughout your character reference if necessary.

For example, it may look like this:

Presiding Magistrate
Southport Magistrates Court
Davenport St & Hinze Street,
Southport QLD 4215

Dear Your Honour

Acknowledge that You Know that the Relevant Charges

You should make reference to the charges that the person is charged with. This will add a good degree of authenticity and will show the court that your character reference is not only relevant but that you have written it in full knowledge of what the person has been charged with.

Explain the Relationship

One important thing often forgotten in how to write a character reference for Court is letting the Court know about the relationship you have with the person. For example, if you’re a family friend, employer or work colleague, be upfront about that.

If You’re an Employer Make that Clear

If you are a current or former employer of the person, then make it known in your character reference. Also state the length of the working relationship.

Use Your Letterhead if You’re a Business

If you run a business or are writing the reference on behalf of a charity or community organisation, having the official letterhead will make more impact.

Talk About the Impact of the Charges

It’s important that the Court knows about the impact that the charges have had on the person. It may be useful if you have the knowledge of how the person is coping given the charges, in particular that they have expressed to you their remorse and disbelief that they committed those offences and consequently their depression and/or anxiety.

The Changes the Person is Making

Often there can be a considerable time between when a person is charged with an offence/offences and their day in Court. It’s important for the Court to know about whether the person has made any amends to their offending behaviour. For example, it may be the case that the person is charged with break and enter charges that derive from their addiction to methamphetamines. It will be important for the Court to know, if you have the knowledge that since the offending the person has undergone detox and is either awaiting a bed in a drug rehab or is currently in such a rehab. Alternatively, they may be attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and are in receipt of outpatient drug services.

How to Write a Character Reference for Court – Conclusion

Just remember the primary objective of your character reference is to illuminate the real characteristics and nature of the person who you are writing it for. The Court will have information that is primarily one-sided and your job as a character reference writer is to show a different side.

Importantly, ensure that the person you are writing the character reference for has a lawyer. Then, you will be able to liaise with the lawyer to ensure that your character reference is exactly what he or she wants to put before the Court.