Character Reference Guide


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If you have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a ‘Criminal Offence’ or ‘Major Traffic Offence’, you should obtain character references for the Magistrate or Judge.
The following is a general guide for your assistance:

1. Basic rules about character references:

  • Character references should, whenever possible, be typed on letterhead.
  • They should be signed and dated, and originals should be brought to court.
  • They should be addressed to either: (a) ‘To the Presiding Magistrate’, or to (c) ‘Your Honour’.
  • They do not have to be ‘formal’; they should be the words of the person who gives the reference (who is called your ‘referee’).

2. What your ‘referee’ should say about themselves:

Your referee should say something about:

  • what he or she does for a living, eg “I have worked in XYZ Organisation as a manager for ‘x’ years”.
  • any positions or titles held, eg business or employment positions, church, military, positions in community organisations etc.
  • any positive contributions he or she has made to the community, eg involvement in charity work. That information should somehow be slipped in, without sounding over-confident or arrogant.

3. What your referee should say about you:

Your referee should say:

  • how long and in what circumstances he or she has known you, eg “I have known John for 3 years through working together at XYZ Organisation” or “John has been my close friend for 5 years”.
  • how often you meet or see each other, eg “I see John every weekday during work” or “I see John almost fortnight when we meet to socialise”.
  • something your personality and behaviour, eg “I have always known John to be a decent, honest and caring person” or “John is a very hard worker and has always been punctual and efficient at work” etc. Examples can be given.

4. What your referee should say about the offence, your attitude and the possible impact:

  • Your referee MUST make it clear that he or she is aware of the nature and seriousness of the charge/s, eg “I am aware that John has pleaded guilty to “x” which is a very serious offence”. The referee should also make reference to any previous offence/s, eg “I am aware that in 2010, John also pleaded guilty to “x”.
  • Your referee should say that the current offence is ‘out of character’, eg “I was extremely surprised when John told me about what he did. It is certainly not consistent with my experiences of him”.
  • Your referee can refer to any remorse expressed by you and say that you have taken responsibility, eg “I have spoken with John at length about the incident. He takes full responsibility for what he did and has expressed deep shame and remorse. He understands that his actions are acceptable. I believe it is highly unlikely that he would engage in such conduct in the future”.
  • Your referee should refer to any concerns about a criminal conviction or loss of licence, without telling the Magistrate or Judge what to do, eg:
  • “John has told me he is very worried about getting a criminal conviction as this would prevent him from obtaining a job as ‘x’ “; or
  • “John is concerned that he will lose his job as an ‘x worker’ if he receives a criminal conviction, as his job is subject to criminal record checks and he is required to be conviction-free”; or
  • “A loss of licence would prevent John from fulfilling his work duties as an “x” as he is required to travel between various locations within the Sydney area on a daily basis. This will impact on his ability to pay his bills and take care of his family”.

Finally, this is a guide-only and the contents of your reference must be accurate and true as they will be handed up to the court.

Please also write in your own style and with your own words.