Character references in court proceedings can be some of the most important evidence for defending a case. If you have been asked to provide a written character reference for a defendant, there are some important things you need to know about writing a good reference.

A character reference must raise points that specifically address the issues at hand, and shows the Court, who the defendant is as a person. For example, a character reference about a person’s positive contribution to the community in the past and recent changes they have made to their life can bear on the sentence a defendant receives.

Who Should Be A Referee?

A character referee can be anyone. However, it is much more useful if they have known the defendant for a significant amount of time, and can provide details about their character which support the issues raised by the defendant’s lawyer. A referee can be a spouse, another family member, work colleague or friend. Such people often have a deeper understanding of who the defendant is as a person.

What To Include In The Reference?

1. Background to your relationship with the defendant

It is important that you can demonstrate you have a genuine relationship with the defendant, and if relevant that you have a prominent position. Things to include here are:

  • who you are and what job you have;
  • how long you have known the defendant;
  • how you came to know them; and
  • how often you see them.

2. Awareness of current and past offences

Here you should specify the offences or type of offences for which the defendant is charged (without including too many details). For example “I am aware that John Smith is pleading guilty to fraud”. Your reference may not be given much weight by a magistrate or judge if it looks as though you don’t know what the charges are. Noting down the offences will also help to work out what statements you should make that will support the defence.
You should also show an awareness of any past offences, as relevant. Simply stating that an action of the defendant is out of character will not hold much weight, and even more so if it looks like you have no idea of their past offences.

For example, you could preface a statement with “Despite John Smith’s previous driving offence in 2011, I firmly believe…” If you are aware that the defendant has also taken steps to show their remorse, you should identify those steps and relate it back to your honest opinion of the defendant’s good character.

3. Personal opinion of their character

Here you must honestly say what you think of the defendant’s character. If you think their actions are out of character, point to reasons why this is the case. Also identify their reputation within their community, to the best of your knowledge, and justify this with references to how they contribute positively to their community. For example, they may volunteer at community sport on the weekend.

If you are writing in a capacity as a work colleague or employer, it is also beneficial to comment on their performance at work and their attitude and behaviour in the work place. You should also mention how any absence or conviction will affect their prospects of continued employment.

4. Knowledge of their personal life

In this section, you should address the defendant’s background and any hardship they have experienced, whether it be financial strife, a divorce, alcoholism, etc. In particular, any experiences that may have influenced the choices they made leading up to the offence. If you are aware of any steps they have taken to address these personal problems, you should note this too and relate it back to your opinion of their character.

What Not To Include In A Character Reference

There are a few things that should not be included in a character reference, as they can cause much more harm than good. This include:

  • Anything that is not true. Misleading the court is a punishable offence.
  • Any suggestion of what penalty should be imposed.
  • Any opinion of the law, or of any other party to the proceeding.
  • Any requests or submissions.

Format of Reference

The character reference should be in the form of a letter, typed, and if possible on a letterhead with the date in the top right-hand corner. You should address the letter to either “The Presiding Magistrate” if the matter is in the Local Court, and include the court location, or “The Presiding Judge” if the matter is in a District, County or Supreme Court.

You should not write “Dear Sir or Madam” when addressing the magistrate or judge, instead, write “Your Honour”, and include this title throughout as required.
Make sure that you sign the letter and include your contact number, should you need to be contacted about the contents of the reference.

Key Takeaways

If you are unsure about writing a character reference, it is always best to clarify your intended statements with the defendant’s lawyer. While they cannot write the reference for you, they can discuss the reference with you, and point out if you are making statements that don’t help the case, or if any statements are unclear or not well supported. Give us a call on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page if you have any questions.

COVID-19 Business Survey
LegalVision is conducting a survey on the impact of COVID-19 for businesses across Australia. The survey takes 2 minutes to complete and all responses are anonymous. We would appreciate your input. Take the survey now.

About LegalVision: LegalVision is a tech-driven, full-service commercial law firm that uses technology to deliver a faster, better quality and more cost-effective client experience.

The majority of our clients are LVConnect members. By becoming a member, you can stay ahead of legal issues while staying on top of costs. For just $199 per month, membership unlocks unlimited lawyer consultations, faster turnaround times, free legal templates and members-only discounts.

Learn more about LVConnect

Need Legal Help? Get a Free Fixed-Fee Quote

If you would like to receive a free fixed-fee quote or get in touch with our team, fill out the form below.

  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive emails from LegalVision and can unsubscribe at any time. See our full Privacy Policy.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Our Awards
  • 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn 2019 Top 25 Startups - LinkedIn
  • 2019 NewLaw Firm of the Year - Australian Law Awards 2019 NewLaw Firm of the Year - Australian Law Awards
  • 2020 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500 2020 Fastest Growing Law Firm - Financial Times APAC 500
  • 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review 2020 AFR Fast 100 List - Australian Financial Review
  • 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards 2020 Law Firm of the Year Finalist - Australasian Law Awards
  • Most Innovative Law Firm - 2019 Australasian Lawyer 2019 Most Innovative Firm - Australasian Lawyer
Privacy Policy Snapshot

We collect and store information about you. Let us explain why we do this.

What information do you collect?

We collect a range of data about you, including your contact details, legal issues and data on how you use our website.

How do you collect information?

We collect information over the phone, by email and through our website.

What do you do with this information?

We store and use your information to deliver you better legal services. This mostly involves communicating with you, marketing to you and occasionally sharing your information with our partners.

How do I contact you?

You can always see what data you’ve stored with us.

Questions, comments or complaints? Reach out on 1300 544 755 or email us at

View Privacy Policy