How to Write a Character Reference for Court (2019 Update)
Have you been asked to provide a character reference for someone who's in legal trouble? Read this article to find out what you should include.
A character reference is a written testimony of a person’s character. A good character reference for Court can go a long way in supporting a person’s case. Character references are usually presented to the court in criminal law matters, but also carry weight in tribunal hearings (for example, in appealing a migration matter in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal). Further, they are normally made by people who have known the subject for a long period of time.
If you have been asked to write a character reference for Court, here are a couple of things you should keep in mind.
1. Detail the relationship
People who write a character reference for Court are usually family members, employers and close friends. You should clearly state who you are, and also how you are related to the subject. Detail relevant information about what you know about them, for example their education, family and employment. Clearly identifying how you know the person and how long you’ve known them for will add credibility to what you’re about to say.
2. State the charge
If your reference is being used in a criminal mater, you should make reference to the crime. You should acknowledge that you know that the offender has been charged with the offence and know what they’ve have done. If the offender has spoken at length with you about what they’ve done, you should mention it. Acknowledging what has happened will put your character reference into context.
3. Talk about the person’s character
You should detail how you view the offender’s character, and their reputation in the community. Include any contributions they’ve made to the community, like participation in charitable programs. If they have had personal problems that you know of, you should discuss it, and demonstrate how they are attempting to, or have overcome it. The aim here is to demonstrate why this person makes a positive contribution to society.
4. Don’t generalise
Be specific about what you are saying about the offender. A statement like “John is hardworking, well-spoken, and righteous, and a well-respected member of the community.” is not persuasive. Demonstrate how they showcase these characteristics. When making claims about someone’s attributes, it’s always important to give evidence of when these characteristics are on display.
5. State that the offence is out of character
You should detail how the offence was out of character for the offender and why you think so. By showing a contrast between what this person has done and their character generally, you’ll be demonstrating that the crime was not reflective of who the offender is. Further, if they have have shown remorse, be sure to include it.
You have a friend named Jerry who has been charged with negligent driving. You have known him for 14 years through your work together at the local homeless shelter. In your character reference, you explain that Jerry’s generosity and concern for the wellbeing of others is evident in the hours he dedicates to the shelter and the fundraiser he organised last year.
6. Be authentic and professional
Keep your character reference concise, clear and accurate. Judges and magistrates have been reading character references for years, and are experts in spotting ones that are not genuine. Further, they can assess which ones should be taken at face value and which ones make claims that can’t be backed up. Remember that this isn’t a business reference, but rather something more personal which requires evidence.
Providing a good character reference can mean the difference between whether someone gets a job or house. Further, in criminal matters it can be a mitigating factor, meaning that the offender may receive a lesser penalty. Character references can be used in a wide range of circumstances, but no matter where you’re using it – it’s important to get it right.
Jackie is the Content Manager at Lawpath and manages the content team. She has a Law/Arts (Politics) degree from Macquarie University and is an admitted solicitor in the Supreme Court of NSW. She's interested in how technology can help shape the future legal landscape.