Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Why a Character Reference Can Be Useful
A well written character reference emphasises a person's good character. This in turn increases the likelihood of getting a favourable outcome at Court.
A character references serves several purposes:
by providing some context to the circumstances that underly the offending.
to convey remorse.
to demonstrate rehabilitation that has occurred in the period after the offending
to highlight noteworthy aspects of good character such as a long history of volunteer work or other community minded endeavours.
A lawyer presenting a character reference on behalf of their client, wants the reference to touch upon the above points to mitigate the penalty for the offending.
The Content of Character Reference for Court
For the character reference to be effective it should conform to the following:
1. The reference must be signed and dated;
2. The reference should be addressed “To the Sentencing Magistrate”
3. The first sentence of the reference should refer to the criminal offence(s). So, for example the
opening sentence of a reference might be “I am aware that [name of offender] has been charged with [name of offence(s)]. The referee needs to be provided with all the relevant details of the offence for which the accused person is to appear.
4. The referee should comment on aspects of the person’s character that they feel can honestly speak to. Those matters might include:
a. How long they have known the accused
b. Reputation for honesty
c. Reputation for reliability
d. Community involvement (for example participation as a volunteer coach, fundraising etc)
e. Accused’s acknowledgment of wrongdoing, or expressions of remorse
f. Observations as to rehabilitation undertaken by the accused person.
5. Whilst it is legitimate for a referee to explain the consequence of a particular outcome, save for example licence disqualification, or a conviction, they should refrain from giving an opinion as to what the outcome should be.
6. A referee should refrain from blaming a complainant for the accused’s involvement in a particular offence, or otherwise make disparaging remarks of a complainant. A Magistrate or Judge will always take a dim view of any referee that makes such comment. It also reflects poorly on the lawyer that failed to check the reference before it was handed up.
7. Referees need to be aware that although it is commonplace for the Court to receive their reference as a letter, and not require it to tendered as a sworn document (statutory declaration or affidavit), the contents of their letter must be truthful and they should approach the task of writing their reference as though they were giving evidence in Court (which does require an oath or affirmation to be taken).
Check and Double Check Before Submitting the Reference to Court
It has been my practice to read references well in advance of my client’s court hearing. This is because a Magistrate or Judge will carefully read a reference, and references that contain inappropriate material or comments, do more harm than good.
A written character reference that conforms with the do’s and avoids the don’ts as set out in this article, will often be of genuine assistance to a sentencing Judge or Magistrate in the sentencing process. Furthermore, it will enhance an accused person’s prospects of achieving a good outcome for their case.