Writing a Character Reference for Court

How to write a Character Reference for Court

Character references are a very helpful piece of evidence for a Judge or Magistrate to take into consideration prior to imposing a penalty/sentence. References can include:

  1. Personal character references – from a person who has known the accused for some time and can attest to his previous good character.
  2. Professional character references – from a person who has known the accused in a professional environment, for example as an employer or employee of the accused person.

It is essential that the person providing the reference know the accused person personally. There is little value in a reference provided by a friend of the family for example, who does not really know the accused person.

Reference Essentials

The reference must be dated

The reference must be signed

The reference should be addressed to “Your Honour”

The reference should include your contact number in case anything needs to be clarified


Reference Content
All references should contain the following information:

Your relationship
You should start the reference by introducing yourself and stating how you know the person you are proving the reference for. The first paragraph should outline your relationship to the accused person, how long you have known them and in what context. Eg:

  • My name is John Smith and I have lived next door to Joe for the last 10 years. We have become good friends and have weekly contact.
  • My name is John Smith and I met Joe playing cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Club when we were teenagers. We have been close friends for nearly 10 years, playing sport and socialising regularly.
  • My name is John Smith and I employ Joe at my business Melbourne Florists. Joe commenced working in August 2016 on a full time basis.
  • My name is John Smith and I am Joe’s father.

Your knowledge
The reference is most helpful to the Court where the author is fully aware of the purpose the reference is being used for. Eg:

  • I am aware that Joe is attending Court pleading guilty to a charge of driving whilst suspended.
  • I am providing this reference to confirm that I am willing to provide employment to Joe if he is granted bail.
  • I am providing this reference to confirm for the Court that Joe has been employed by my company as an accounts clerk for the last three years. He has disclosed that he is facing Court for drug possession charges.
  • Joe has told me he was arrested for possessing drugs and has to attend Court. I am aware this reference will be provided to help him with sentencing.

Your observations
The Court will be assisted by honest references where an accused person has disclosed the offending and you can inform the Court about the impact of the criminal offending on their life/attitude. Eg:

  • Joe has disclosed to me that he is very sorry for the offending, he has been visibly upset when discussing the pending court date. I know he is not only sorry for doing the wrong thing but also that he has brought shame on his family as a result.
  • It has been obvious that Joe is remorseful for his behaviour. He continues to apologise and seek to repair the trust damaged by his offending and going to Court. He has offered to pay for the damage done and I know he has followed this up as he told me about speaking with the police to obtain their payment details.
  • I have been impressed by Joe’s efforts to repair the damage his behaviour has caused. He has been open and honest with family and he is clearly remorseful and trying to make amends. He has attended Counselling and has told me that he is working hard to try to find another job after he was fired as a result of his charges.
  • It was clear to the family that Joe was using drugs. We were all very sad when he was charged but the involvement with police has caused Joe to make a real effort to change. He is engaging with a drug counsellor, providing regular urine screens and being honest with all of us about his struggles. He appears determined to avoid this happening again.


Your opinion
The reference should include your opinion of the person’s character and reputation. It is important that you do not overstate your opinion, for example where a person has lots of past criminal convictions for driving offences, your reference will not be well received if the Magistrate reads from you that he’s never done this in the past. Make sure your opinion is an informed opinion, ask questions of the person you are providing the reference for. Eg:

  • Joe is really well liked at the cricket club. He is very helpful, always stays back late to set up or clean up after games. This offending is very out of character. Joe has told me he has never been in trouble before.
  • I am aware Joe has been in trouble in the past, but in the last 12 months he was making a real effort and appeared to be getting his life back on track. Unfortunately he finds himself back in Court, but he continues to try to do the right thing in his personal life. He is returning to counselling for more help.
  • Having known Joe for the last eight years I am completely shocked that he is going to court for driving offences. He has in my observation always been responsible and reliable. I have discussed with him the charges and am confident he will avoid this happening again.