When a person has broken the law and either pleads guilty to an offence or is found guilty of an offence after trial, the Magistrate or Judge will read character references before deciding on a penalty.
It is therefore important that a character reference provide all of the information required to help the court determine an appropriate penalty.
If you have been asked to provide a character reference you should address the following topics:
- Write a bit about yourself: who you are, your age, your job and your qualifications.
- State how long you have known the person to whom the character reference relates (hereinafter referred to as “the person”).
- State how you know the person.
- Discuss the person’s reputation in the community.
- Acknowledge that you understand what the person is being charged with (without this, the prosecution may try to argue that your opinion of the person would change if you knew of his/her offence).
- Acknowledge the seriousness of the crime.
- Discuss the person’s character and how this incident is out of character. However, do not discuss this if the person has previously been charged with a similar offence as the courts would question this and not look favourably upon such a statement.
- State how the person has changed since the incident and how remorseful (s)he is. Write your observations of the person which shows you that (s)he is remorseful.
- State whether your knowledge of the person’s criminal matter affects your positive opinion of his/her character.
- If the person will experience difficulties as a result of the penalty and you are aware of this, state the difficulties which will be experienced.
- State whether you would be willing to come to court to give the person a reference in person.
Other matters to note:
- If possible, the reference should be typed for easy reading.
- If possible, you should put the character reference on official letterhead to lend more weight to it.
- The character reference should include your full name, address and contact number.
- The character reference should be made out to “The Sentencing Magistrate” if it is in the Magistrates Court and “The Sentencing Judge” if it is in the District Court. It should include the address of the court.
- The character reference should be addressed to “Your Honour”.
- The character reference should be no more than 2 pages long.
- The character reference should be dated.
- The character reference should be signed.