How to Write a Character Reference for Court

Sep 8, 2015
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Written by Dominic Woolrych

First off, what is a character reference?

A character reference is a written testimony of a person’s character. Character references are usually presented to the court in criminal law matters, but also carry weight in tribunal hearings (for example, in appealing for citizenship in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal).

If you are writing a character reference, here are a couple of things you should keep in mind.

1. Detail the relationship

People who write character references are usually family members, employers and close friends. You should clearly state who you are, and how you are related to the offender. Detail relevant information about what you know about the offender, like their education, family and employment.

2. State the charge

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 have done, you should include that as well.

3. The offender’s character

You should detail how you view the offender’s character, and their reputation in the community. Include any contributions they’ve have 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.

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 those characteristics.

5. Out of character and remorse

You should detail how the offence was out of character for the offender and why you think so. Further, if they have have shown remorse, be sure to include it.

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.

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