On this page: This page outlines how to write a character reference.

Instructions for Writing a Character Reference

What is a character reference?

A character reference is a letter to the court written by people who know you and are willing to write about your good character even though they know you have been charged with a criminal offence.

A character reference can:

  • show the magistrate you are normally a person of good character
  • tell the magistrate about any special circumstances, such as why you need a licence or any personal issues which may help explain why you committed the offence.

Who can give you a character reference?

  • A person writing a character reference should have a good reputation and should not have a criminal record. They may be:
  • a neighbour
  • your employer or a work colleague
  • your doctor
  • a teacher
  • a family friend
  • a member of a club or organisation that you belong to, for example a local sporting club, community group or a church or other religious organisation.

You should avoid asking people under the age of 18 to prepare a character reference.

You should be willing to tell your referee about the offence. This is because it is important that the referee say that they are aware of the offence, but still believe you are someone of ‘good character’.

How to prepare a character reference

Character references should be typed or neatly written on a white A4 piece of a paper. If it is from your employer it should be on letterhead if possible.

It should:

  • be dated
  • have their name and address on the right hand side
  • be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate” of the court you have to go to
  • be signed with their name printed underneath

What to include

  • They should state:
  • their name and occupation
  • that they are aware that you have been charged with an offence and what that offence is
  • that they are aware you are pleading guilty
  • how long they have known you
  • how they know you, for example, employer, workmate, priest, teacher, team member, family friend, flat mate
  • their opinion of your character, including any information about your involvement in community groups or sporting organisations, volunteer work you have performed
  • what they know of your plans for the future
  • anything else about the charges which might help the court, for example your need for a drivers licence

What not to include

  • The reference should not include the following:
  • their opinion about the appropriate penalty
  • any irrelevant information
  • if you have committed other similar offences in the past, don’t include a statement that the offence is ‘out of character’ or that you will not offend again
  • any comment about the law, the police or the role of the court
  • any statement that they know is false, or they do not agree with.

Hint – You should take the original letter and three copies to court. The original will be kept by the court. You will need to give one copy to the prosecutor, keep one for your records and have a spare.