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.

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.