Clarity Law

Specialist Criminal Law Firm Queensland
Tuesday, 17 January 2017 12:59

Court Character References

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Court Character References

Providing written character references to a Queensland magistrate or judge to consider during sentencing may help to ensure a person gets a more lenient outcome.

As a seasoned criminal defence lawyer in Queensland, I understand the pivotal role that character references play in court proceedings. This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the importance of character references, how to procure them, what they should contain, and their impact on the court's decision-making process.  At the end of the article there is a link to download a guide to court character references.


What is a legal character reference?

A court reference is not a general reference but rather a guide to the court about a person’s character from someone who can attest to this. The referee needs to make clear to the court;     

  1. Who they are
  2. How they know the person
  3. Why the person is of good character
  4. That they know of the charges
  5. How the offence has impacted on the person
  6. Their views on whether the person would commit a similar crime again

The referee should generally have known the person for a substantial period of time and have a good insight into a person’s character.  While a reference from a doctor or well established person often carries a lot of weight, references from friends, family or employers can still be quite valuable, especially given that they can often provide the best insight to the person’s character.

It should be noted that the referee must be aware of the offence. It is of no value if they do not mention in the reference that they are aware of the offence and have discussed it with the person. While it is often embarrassing to have to admit the nature of the charges to someone it is essential to ensure the reference carries weight before the court.  A referee could not be expected to be able to judge a person’s remorse and the impact a charge has had without knowing the exact charges.


Why get a character reference?

The purpose of obtaining character references is to provide to the court information about the person’s character and their attitude towards the offence, including how committing and pleading guilty to the offence has impacted upon them. This evidence assists the court in determining the appropriate penalty.

A character reference provides the court with valuable insights into the defendant’s personality, behaviour, and community standing. It allows the court to consider the individual beyond their alleged offence, offering a more holistic perspective.

Lets take the example of someone charged with assault occasioning bodily harm. Without a reference most of the information provided to the court will be negative. A character reference will at least allow the court to hear positive information about the defendant.


Do character references matter that much?

It depends. In the majority of cases character references can significantly influence the court's decision, especially in sentencing. They can attest to the individual's positive traits, rehabilitation efforts, and potential for reintegration into society.

However some judges and magistrates feel that character references don’t help them much in reaching a decision on penalty.

As many people would have seen the use of character references in America especially by famous people has prompted debate as to whether character references should be used in criminal cases. In Australia there has been calls from victims of child sexual abuse to change the law to prevent character references being used for those charges.

Your lawyer can tell you if a reference is needed or not as they will know the attitude of the judge or magistrate.


Who should I get to write a character reference?

Choose individuals who know you well and can vouch for your character, integrity, and contributions to the community.

This may include employers, colleagues, teachers, mentors, or community leaders who can provide credible and unbiased perspectives.

Family members and friends can also give character references.


How should a character reference be set out?

A character reference should be presented in a formal and professional manner. It should:

  • be addressed to the presiding judge or magistrate
  • have writer's contact details should be included.
  • dated and signed
  • typed
  • printed on letterhead if it is from a business
  • not to exceed 2 pages (1 page is even better)


What goes into a character references?

A character reference should include specific examples of the individual's positive qualities, such as their honesty, reliability, empathy, and community involvement. It may also mention any efforts towards rehabilitation or personal growth.

Generally a reference should include:

  • The referee’s name, address and phone number

  • An explanation of how they know the person, for how long and what their relationship to the person is

  • The fact that the referee is aware of the offence and has discussed it with the person

  • The referee’s opinion, based on the relationship, of the person’s character, the impact of the offence on the person and whether the person has changed in any way after the offence

  • Any issues specific to the referee (e.g. an employer may to comment on the effect that a conviction and/or any loss of licence will have upon the person’s continuing employment status)

  • Whether the referee thinks the person is likely to re-offend

  • Anything else the referee considers appropriate

Referees are not required to attend the court and will not receive a response from the Court about how the reference was treated. It is important to note once a reference is tended in open Court then it becomes a public document and can be seen by member of the general public if they choose to search the court file.

It is important to remember that references are not essential, but they certainly can assist in ensuring you obtain the absolute best possible outcome for your circumstances.


Lets look closer at the main things a reference should contain

Who the reference writer is

This is fairly obvious the reference writer should explain who they are. They might include the education background, degrees held, employment and any awards they have.


How the reference writer knows the defendant

Setting out how the reference writer knows the defendant allows the court to understand how well they know them and in what circumstances.

The type of information that could be included includes;

                How long they have known the defendant

                How the defendant and reference writer met

                How the relationship has progressed over time


Why the defendant is of good character normally

Obviously if a reference is being used in court then the defendant has fallen below the good character they might normally show but its still good to address their normally good character. The reference writer could include things like:

                Community service the defendant does

                Help they provide to friends/family or the community

                The little things they do that shows their character


That the reference writer knows about the criminal charges

Its critical that the charges the defendant is pleading guilty to is addressed. Without this the court will think the defendant hasn’t told the reference writer about the charge or the full extent of the charges. In that case the reference is likely to be ignored by the court.


How the offence has impacted the defendant

Here the reference writer can give an insight into how they have seen the offence affect the defendant. They might want to add to the reference details about discussions they have had and the references writers observations on how the defendant has come to terms with their offending and any insights they have had.

An employer might want to discuss the defendants work history and the impact the offence will have on their employment (for example how a drink driving disqualification will impact their employment).


Whether the reference writer thinks the defendant will offend again

This is fairly obvious but always be truthful. If a person is charged with drug supply and you think they will offend again then don’t lie.


What should not go in a character reference?

Avoid including any irrelevant or potentially prejudicial information. This includes opinions on the legal proceedings or any negative comments about the alleged victim or the justice system.

Never minimise the offending and never ever suggest a penalty.

For example if the defendant is pleading guilty to breaching a domestic violence order and the reference writer talks about how their partner (the victim) was a terrible person and really is the cause of the charge then this will make the situation worse as the court will think the defendant doesn’t accept they did anything wrong.


What should I do once the character reference is given to me?

Ensure that the character reference is accurate and then provide a copy to your lawyer. They can check it and ensure it aligns with your defence strategy.

Your lawyer will know if the reference is suitable or not.

Always bring the original character reference on the court date.


How many character references should I get?

Quality is more important than quantity. It's better to have a few well-crafted references from credible sources than a large number of generic ones. Aim for around 2-4 references that provide a comprehensive view of your character.


How is a character reference used in court?

During sentencing, the character references are presented to the court as part of the defence’s case. The presiding judge will consider them alongside other evidence and submissions before making a decision.


Can I get the character reference back after court?

Typically, the court retains the character references as part of the official record. However, you can request a copy for your personal records from your lawyer.


My lawyer didn’t use all the character references I gave them

Your lawyer may choose to use only the references that align with the defence strategy or those that offer the most compelling support. Trust their judgment, as they have the experience to determine which references will be most effective.


Does the person who gave the character reference have to come to court?

In most cases, the person providing the character reference does not need to attend court. However, they may be required to verify the reference's authenticity if requested by the court.



Character references can hold significant sway in Queensland criminal courts, offering a powerful tool to present a more comprehensive view of the defendant. By carefully selecting and presenting character references, individuals can enhance their chances of a favourable outcome in court proceedings. Remember, quality and authenticity are paramount in this process.


Click to download a guide to character references


Why should I engage Clarity Law?

Quite frankly we care about getting the right outcome for our clients and helping them through one of the most difficult times in their lives.

In the face of a criminal law charge, selecting the right legal representation is paramount, and Clarity Law offers a unique blend of proficiency and empathy that sets us apart. Our firm is dedicated to providing clarity in the often complex world of criminal law. We believe that every client deserves a clear understanding of their rights and the legal process they're navigating.

Our experienced team of lawyers approaches each case with a commitment to open communication, ensuring you're informed every step of the way. With a proven track record of securing favourable outcomes, we have the expertise to navigate even the most intricate legal challenges.

At Clarity Law, we strive not only to be your staunch advocates but also to provide a supportive, understanding environment during this trying time. Choosing Clarity Law means choosing a team that will tirelessly work to protect your rights and pursue the best possible outcome for your case.

You can read more about our founder, Steven Brough’s, journey to starting Clarity Law by clicking here.


How do I get more information or engage you to act for me? 

If you want to engage us or just need further information or advice then you can either;

  1. Use our contact form and we will contact you by email or phone at a time that suits you

  2. Call us on 1300 952 255 seven days a week, 7am to 7pm

  3. Click here to select a time for us to have a free 15 minute telephone conference with you

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  5. Send us a message on Facebook Messenger

  6. Click the help button at the bottom right and leave us a message

We are a no pressure law firm, we are happy to provide free initial information to assist you. If you want to engage us then great, we will give you a fixed price for our services so you will know with certainty what we will cost. All the money goes into a trust account monitored by the Queensland Law Society and cannot be taken out without your permission.

If you don’t engage us that fine too, at least you will have more information on the charge and its consequences.


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Read 3335 times Last modified on Tuesday, 26 September 2023 18:25
Steven Brough

Steven Brough is a criminal defence lawyer and founder of Clarity Law with over 22 years experience he has appeared in almost every court in Queensland representing clients charged with criminal offences and getting them the best outcome possible.