What is a Court character reference?
If someone you know has broken the law and is required to attend court, you may be asked to write a character reference. A character reference is a letter that expresses your opinion of this person.
Why is a character reference important?
The magistrate or judge will read the character reference before deciding what penalty to give. An effective character reference can therefore impact the sentence imposed by the Court.
Who can provide a character reference for Court?
The best person to write a character reference for Court will be someone who has known the defendant for a long time, has lots of contact with them, is of good character and has not themselves been in serious trouble with the law at any stage. This person could be a neighbour, employer, colleague, doctor, teacher, family friend or member of a club that the person belongs to. The most appropriate referees will often be family or friends, with whom the defendant is very close and has frequent contact with.
How should a character reference be structured?
A character reference should be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate” of the particular Court the person will be attending. It should be signed and dated, with the referee’s name and address provided. If the reference is being provided by an employer, it should be on an official company letterhead, and the name of the company provided together with the name and address.
What should be included in a character reference?
Who are you?
Include your name and occupation, date of birth, any qualifications that you have or any other relevant details.
How do you know the defendant?
Is the person a family member, friend, colleague, flat mate? How long have you known them, and how often are you in contact with them?
That you are aware of the charges
The court needs to know that you are aware of the offence the person has been charged with, and that you are vouching for this person whilst having this knowledge.
How the charges have affected the person
Has the person displayed remorse regarding the charges? Have they attended counselling, apologised for their actions, or attempted to make amends? Have they suffered any hardships due to the offences, such as losing their job or good reputation in the community?
Your knowledge of what is going on in the person’s life
Has the defendant been going through any personal problems that may have contributed to them committing the offence in question? For example have they lost their job, separated from their partner, or been struggling with mental health issues?
Your opinion of their character
This is the most important part of the reference. This is an opportunity to demonstrate to the Court the true nature of the person, and that they should not be defined by one isolated incident.
- What is their general character and reputation in the community?
- Have they been involved in any volunteer work?
- Are they involved in any clubs or sporting organisations?
- Are they dedicated to their family or friends?
- What are their plans for the future?
- Is it out of character for the person to have committed this offence, and why?
- Do you believe that they will not reoffend, and why?
Other supporting information
You should also include any other relevant information which you think might help the Court. For example, if the person is facing a drink driving or traffic charge and risks losing their licence, you may outline how the person relies on their licence to perform their job and provide for their family.
It may be helpful to review a sample character reference to assist you in completing the reference.
What should not be included in a character reference?
The character reference should not include any of the following:
- Any comment about the law, the police, role of the court or appropriate penalty
- Any statement that is false or misleading, or that you don’t agree with
- A statement that the offence is “out of character” if the defendant has committed a similar offence in the past
- Any irrelevant information
Where should the character reference be sent?
The reference should be provided either to the defendant, or to their lawyer, well before the Court date. It is often helpful for the defendant or referee to discuss the reference with a lawyer. A skilled defence lawyer will have vast experience with Court character references, and will be able to provide advice that enables the best possible reference to be provided.