A guide to providing a Character reference for use in Court

Character references can be very effective material in a sentencing hearing in Queensland.  The material contained in the reference can be relied upon to persuade a Judicial Officer that you are otherwise of good character, have a good employment history and/or have good prospects of rehabilitation.  It can also assist in demonstrating the level of remorse you have demonstrated which is relevant to sentence. 

Tips to consider when writing a character reference

Below are some tips on what makes an effective character reference:

  1. Address it to the Judicial Officer (check whether it is a Judge or Magistrate)
  2. Ensure the referee states they are aware of the charges to which you have pleaded guilty
  3. Do not go into specific detail of the charges and do not try to excuse or downplay the behaviour
  4. Make sure the referee knows you well enough to be able to provide evidence of your character
  5. If possible, the reference should be typed, dated and signed.  If the referee’s position of employment is relevant, it should be included in the letter

How should a character reference be set out?

There is no set rule as to how the character reference should be written, and they will differ depending on the charge before the court and the relationship of the accused to the referee. Below are some general points that should be included in a character reference:

  1. Introduce yourself.  Include your name, your occupation and any qualifications. 
  2. Confirm you are aware of the charges before the court and that the accused is pleading guilty or has been found guilty.  An example is – “I am aware X is currently facing a charge of assault occasioning bodily harm and is pleading guilty.”
  3. Include specific details about the accused’s character and include details of the type of relationship you have with the accused.  An example being “I employed X for a period of four years until July 2020 and was responsible for supervising him daily during that time.  He was always very professional and polite as an employee and a good role model to younger members of the team…”

What should not be included in a character reference

The following points should be avoided when writing a character reference for the Court:

  1. Do not suggest, or attempt to suggest, what penalty the court should impose
  2. Do not lie in a character reference.  The reference is your evidence to the court
  3. Do not make formal suggestions or speeches to the court
  4. Do not be critical of the court, Judicial officer, or any complainant

What should be included for specific types of matters

Drink Driving Charges

For these types of offences, a character reference might set out any issues the accused has had with alcohol abuse and explain the steps the offender is taking to ensure that they do not reoffend. The character reference could also include potential personal consequences that the offender will experience as a result of losing their licence, such as impact on their ability to take their children to afters school activities.  If the disqualification period will impact their employment, an employer could provide a character refence setting out that information.

Assault Charge

A character reference for this type of offence could set out details of how the violent behaviour is out of character for the accused by referring to situations where the offender has previously interacted with friends and family in a positive way.  You might be able to speak to circumstances that you were aware of that were present in the accused’s life at the time of the offence that led to the out of character behaviour (ie – breakdown of relationship, stressors in personal life, loss of employment, loss of a close family member etc), and the changes they have made since then to improve their life.

Drug Charges

It is helpful that the character reference for drug offences focus on the rehabilitation of the offender and the steps that they will take, or have taken to ensure they stop using drugs. It would also be of assistance if the offender has family and/or friends that can act as a support base for the future that can set out a clear plan for the ongoing support of the offender.

This post contains general advice only and is not intended as legal advice.