Guidelines For Character References For Court

 Hand holding pen signing a character reference document

A character reference is a letter written and addressed to the court in support of a defendant who has been charged in criminal proceedings.

The Purpose Of A Character Reference

A character reference should aim to provide the court with a greater insight into the defendant’s personal circumstances, and to address the defendant’s attributes.

This helps the court to gain an impression of the offender and also address the question of who the defendant is in the context of the offending. Character references are an important aspect of a sentencing hearings and serve as a valuable tool in a helping a client achieve the best possible result.

Who Can Give You A Character Reference?

There is a common misconception that family and friends cannot give character reference material. However, this is not true.

The best character references come from those who know you well and therefore, are in a position to write about you as a person.

This could be family members, friends, work colleagues and employers (present and past).

How To Write A Character Reference For Court In Australia

Here we explain the structure of a character reference and the issues that should be addressed.

While there is no one set of rules as to how a character reference should be structured and what issues should be addressed, some general rules and guidelines do apply.

The following points provide a broad guide for a referee to follow when writing a character reference for a defendant.

1. Letterheads

If applicable use a letterhead. If you have an official letterhead because you run your own business or you work for a company then, if you are permitted, place the character reference on the letterhead. A letterhead gives the court a better understanding about who the writer is and what their position is in the community.

2. Have the letter typed

This will enable the court to read the reference without difficulty and without the lack of legibility that a hand written reference may have.

3. Address the letter to the appropriate person

It is important to address a character reference correctly. It tells the Magistrate or Judge that you know that it is not just a general character reference but a reference that is aimed specifically for the court.

If the matter is being heard in the Magistrates’ Court the character reference should be headed “To the Sentencing Magistrate”. If the matter is being heard in the District Court the reference should be headed “To the Sentencing Judge”.

Any further references to the Magistrate or Judge should read “Your Honour”.

4. Heading

Use the name of the person that you are writing about as a heading to the reference.

5. State who you are

Also state your occupation and qualifications. Then state what your relationship is with the defendant and how long you have known them for. Informing the court about the length of time that you have known the defendant demonstrates the level of insight that you have into the defendant’s background and behaviour. It is of limited use if the writer has only known the defendant for a week or a month.

The best character references come from people who know the offender well such as close friends, family members or work colleagues. Generally it’s these people that are able to properly inform the court the level of remorse that the offender has shown and the impact that the offending has had on them.

Include details of any detrimental consequences the offender will experience as a result of the conviction. This all helps to show to the court who the offender truly is and in a way that a lawyer often is unable to communicate to the court. 

6. The facts of the offence

State that you are aware of what the charges are and what the facts of the offence involve. This does not have to be the specific allegations all written out. It can just be something like “I understand that Mr X has been charged with stealing $1000 from his employer”. The sentencing Judge then knows that the writer knows what the reference is for. There is no point tendering a character reference that does not do this.

7. Similar offences

If the defendant has similar offences recorded the writer should say that they are aware of those similar offences and what, if anything, the offender has done to address the causes behind the offending and steps that they are taking to limit the risk of offending again in the same way. It is concerning to the court if a reference does not adequately reflect a situation because the offender has not told the referee about their prior history of similar offending. Otherwise if you believe the offence was a one off isolated incident which is unlikely to occur again then you should say so.

8. Your opinion

State your opinion of the person and be specific. If the reference is general in nature it will depreciate in value. So for example if the writer is saying that they think the offender is a kind and caring person they should also state what it is about the person that makes them that way. For example do they do any voluntary work? Do they help look after sick people? Are they the coach of the junior footy team? Are they a good father?

A character reference for court is all about providing context to a person’s life. So state what qualities the defendant possesses and what you would want to tell the Judge about the defendant if you were actually having a conversation with them.

9. Character traits

Comment on the specific character traits relevant to the offences. For example if the charge is stealing you should note whether you have previously known the defendant to be honest or trust worthy.

10. Don’t suggest a penalty

Judges and Magistrates are likely to be annoyed by people who don’t understand the full details of the case or the rules of sentencing telling them what to do. Just mention the positives about the defendant and leave it to the lawyer to make the submission on sentencing.

11. Other matters

Include any other matters that are considered to be relevant.

12. Sign and date

Clearly sign and date the character reference and include your contact details. The reference will be worthless unless these things are done.

Summary Of What To Include In A Character Reference:

  • If you are the owner of a business you should use your letterhead.
  • Address the reference to “The Court” using “Dear Sir/Madam”.
  • Use the name of the person who you are writing about as a heading to the reference.
  • Start reference by stating who you are and your occupation.
  • Next state what your relationship is with the person and how long you have known them for.
  • State that you are aware of what the person has been charged with and write out the charge(s). Include the facts involved e.g. “I understand that Mr X has been charged with stealing $1,000.00 from his employer.”
  • State your opinion of the person generally and also comment on the specific character traits relevant to the offences. For example, if the charge is stealing you should note whether you have previously known the person to be honest or trustworthy (or not).
  • Include any information about the person’s involvement in community groups or volunteer work.
  • Sign the reference, print your name (and your position if it is a reference on letterhead), your phone number and the date.

Summary Of What Not To Include In A Character Reference:

  • Any comment on what you think the appropriate penalty should be.
  • Irrelevant information.
  • If the person has committed other similar offences in the past, don't include a statement that the offence is 'out of character' or that they will not offend again.
  • Any comment about the law, the police or the role of the court.
  • Any statement that you know is false or do not agree with.

Other Tips on Character References

Be Truthful

Always be completely truthful in character references. There is nothing more concerning than the tendering of a character reference which is shown to be untruthful or deceiving. It is a criminal offence to deceive the court and doing so may result in serious consequences to the writer.

Get the References to the Lawyer Early

Get the references to your criminal lawyer early to allow them to consider them and determine whether there are matters which require further clarification or need to be expand upon.

We Can Help

If you or someone you know is charged with an offence and you are not sure about what is involved in writing a character reference, we can help. Andrew Williams is an experienced criminal lawyer who takes the responsibility of representing the interests of accused persons very seriously. Call the Law Offices of Andrew Williams today on 08 9278 2575 or send Andrew a message

Helpful Law Articles:


PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.

Contact our lawyers now

At Andrew Williams Criminal Law we're here to help you with the best legal advice.

Testimonials Hear from our valued Clients

Words cannot express my gratitude for Andrew agreeing to take my case on, commit to returning from annual leave early, and the personal support and legal expertise provided in defending the driving charges made against me.

The delays I experienced by the two adjournments, while prolonging my anxiety and reducing my faith that I would receive a favourable outcome, worked very much in my favour but moreover it was the multiple submissions and arguments that Andrew made at law on my behalf that cemented the somewhat miraculous outcome including two spent convictions.

Though I genuinely never for a second doubted Andrew's skills, experience and abilities, my fate felt somewhat pre-determined given the significant impact sustained by the complainant.

Andrew was kind, non judgmental, clearly experienced and committed and he accommodated my anxieties and emotion surrounding the charges laid against me.

Andrew went out of his way to give me the best chance possible for a favourable outcome that, in the end, the Magistrate considered and responded accordingly.

All in all, I could not have dreamt of a better outcome considering the circumstances and I...

Rel M
Rel M

I had Andrew deal with my case recently and couldn't of been happier with the result he got for me. From the start Andrew was quick to reply to any questions and queries I had regarding my matter. He was very professional in my opinion, very easy to talk to and explained things quite well. I felt very comfortable in the courtroom knowing that Andrew wanted to get the best result he could for me, and I would highly recommend Andrew Williams to anyone who needs a criminal lawyer.


Colin W

I was on a very tight rope where, if it balanced the wrong way, it would have totally devastated my life. Andrew was honest through the entire process preparing me for the worst but never let me give up and thankfully with his help got a great outcome that let me move forward with my family. I cant praise Andrew enough and recommend him 100%.


Jason M

I cannot thank Andrew enough for his support and would not hesitate recommending your service to anyone who would need your help. I am eternally grateful to Andrew Williams who kept me informed as and when he had to and had no doubt in his professionalism. Thank you.


Pamela J
Pamela J

Had Andrew defend a reckless driving charge. He gave good solid advice throughout the process and defended me well at the trial. His costs were affordable and he was a great guy in general. The most important thing is we were able to have the charges dismissed via a not guilty verdict. I would recommend him to anyone.


Joly M
Joly M

Andrew represented me recently in a few difficult situations. I found him to be very professional, easily contactable and generally wanting a good outcome for me. I've passed his contact info to friends and if I ever need legal representation again I'll definitely be using his services.


Ryan B
Ryan B

After making several calls to various law firms, I came across Andrew Williams who was quick to respond providing knowledgeable, honest and friendly legal advice. At all times I felt confident in Andrew's ability to defend the charges. The case went to trial with an outcome of not guilty. I was awarded full legal costs. Could not be happier.


Matt K
Matt K

Andrew was fantastic to deal with. His courtroom demeanor and skills were apparent. He was always able to assist with a complex matter across nearly 3 years in rural WA. Would highly recommend his services.


Wesley H
Wesley H

Of my limited experiences in the judicial system, I can’t rate Andrew Williams highly enough. He was fantastic on my day in court and was very straight up during my consultations. He is such an awesome person, and the best professional criminal lawyer I have ever encounter. Need help call Andrew.


Aaron J

Andrew was brilliant with my case and achieved the best outcome. He was very professional and was very impressive in the submissions he presented to the magistrate. Again, I can't thank you enough Andrew.


Danni H

Andrew was very preffesional and welcoming when dealing with my case.

In the court room I felt at ease knowing andrew was representing me.

I would highly reccomend andrew for everyone no matter how big or small the case is!



Thanks a lot for handling my case and getting the pleasant outcome. Since the first time I talked to you I have known that my case was in a capable hands. I am impressed by your knowledge and confidence which gave me confidence. Cheers.


Joe Y

Thank you so much Andrew for grooming me and going over the process over and again. It was a traumatic time for me and you kept me focused. I really appreciate your guidance and we came out with the best result.

I wouldn't of been able to hold up as I did if not for your valued support.

Sincerely, Kyley.


Kyley S

Andrew was very approachable, knowledgeable, professional and focused on the best outcome. I would always recommend him.


Kieran C

My personal experience with Andrew Williams was a pleasant one from day one. In the midst of a police raid and the inability to find legal representation I considered myself done for when Andrew took the time to call me back after I contacted his office (during which time he was in trial). Upon soliciting some legal advice, Andrew was straight with me and I made an appointment with him in which he clearly explained the seriousness of my case. After some time, when the matter was moved to the District Courts I was well aware that I would likely be looking at some jail time; the nature of the legal systems and the way in which bureaucracy works is an extremely draining and mentally exhausting process. However, Andrew kept me well informed at every step of the way and promptly wrote to prosecution at critical points outlining my circumstances.

Moving forward, on the sentence hearing day, a pivotal point of my life occured when I was given no immediate imprisonement and was offered an opportunity before the Judge, being legally represented by Andrew. At no one point did I feel like I was being fooled or not taken care of, Andrew Williams was honest and professional, however harsh and difficult it was to accept my circumstances at times. In ...

Franciosco R

I was charged with the offence of aggravated common assault. I engaged Andrew Williams to act for me.

From the first time I met Andrew I knew that I was in the right hands. His level of professionalism both in and out of the court room was very impressive. Following a two day trial in the Perth Magistrates Court, I was found not guilty.

Andrew Williams assisted me through a very stressful period and I was extremely happy with the outcome. I would certainly recommend Andrew Williams to anybody that found themselves on the wrong side of the law.


Kyran H

My wife and I were so glad that we chose Andrew Williams to handle our sons Reckless Driving charge. What a relief to know we have people like him around to help.

Besides a failure to indicate and cutting the corner of a very sharp S bend in the road all other allegations by Police were not substantiated. After using a previous Law firm that basically told us that it was the 2 Police Officers word against our son and that we were probably better to take the charge of Dangerous Driving that had been offered by Police for a plea of guilty. $2500 later we decided to find someone else that at least believed our sons version of events.

Well, Andrew was that person; he understood exactly what was going on. He advised us of all avenues available to us and recommended the assistance of a very professional crash expert who provided quality photographs and measurements of the area involved.

Well if not for the professional and well thought out approach that Andrew used in this instance our son would have been unfairly charged with reckless driving for a very minor traffic offence. All costs were awarded to us by the Court and all I can say is...

George M

I have nothing but good things to say about Andrew and his law services. He helped me more than I could possibly ask for during a difficult time facing the court. He was very efficient and precise and always happy to help and answer questions even last minute and after hours.

I believe he charges a very fair price considering the amount of work he put in for me to achieve the best possible result in court and keeping me updated regularly through the whole process.

Without a doubt I will be recommending Andrew to all of my friends for future reference.


Trent W

I trusted that Andrew was the person to defend my case in our initial contact on the phone. He was very confident in his approach, from the first point of contact to the court room. I believe this must be from years of experience. Another added bonus for Andrew is that he is very honest and fair. He tells you like it is in the book of law and does not appear manipulative. His communication skills helped me help him to form a best defensive argument for my case. In other words, he made me comfortable to open up to him. In the end, he was able to convince the judge to let me off with only warning for providing misleading information to the police officer, which can be recorded as a criminal record against your name for 10 years.


Abraham A

Unhappy with my then representation, I went searching for a new criminal lawyer. Andrew responded quickly and professionally to my enquiry. It was quickly apparent during the first meeting that Andrew was knowledgeable, honest and was committed to getting us the best possible outcome. Andrew looked at all avenues available to me in a Magistrates Court matter. He negotiated on my behalf with the prosecution, attended 3 court hearings and defended my plea at a sentencing hearing. Andrew presented strong arguments in my defense and I was very pleased with a successful outcome. Andrew was also transparent and reasonable with his capped fee costing structure.


Timothy R

After being charged with Common Assault of a minor I made a sensible decision not to use the local Kununurra law firm. I engaged Andrew Williams to assist me with resolving this matter (to the point of me being awarded costs). Despite being 4000km away I never had any issues with Andrew's commitment to my case. He promptly returned all calls and demanded I do likewise when important information needed to be exchanged. I found him to be an intelligent, straight-talking and knowledgeable legal counsel. I have no hesitation in recommending this likeable and professional lawyer to those that require legal representation. Especially those that reside in regional or remote areas where there is no choice.


David C

Andrew Williams is a criminal laywer of much dedication I will never have the words of gratitude and admiration for his honesty and integrity I would highly recommend him to anyone who may require his services in the future


Helen M

I just wanted to take my time to explain my experience with Andrew Williams. I had an incident that could have really affected my future. As anyone does I called around all the lawyers in Perth and just not any lawyer but the ones who are highly respected amongst other lawyers and get the results. I have a friend who works in the industry and she recommended Andrew. She said she always sees Andrew in the paper with amazing outcomes to cases that he gets for his clients I first called his office and left a message with the receptionist. At the time he was on leave and it was his wife birthday. He promised her he wouldn't be bothered with work (this was at christmas time as well) he made the effort and called me to see if I was okay and how everything was. From that moment on I knew I had found my criminal lawyer. When you are going to court you want someone who is going to care about you and go the extra mile and not just pay you off. From the whole experience he was straight with me and very honest. My case was not an easy one and it could have been a very bad outcome. Andrew went out of his way to get me what I wanted. Throughout the whole process I felt like I was dealing with a friend. He was very professional and got the outcome I wanted. I really couldn't ...

Phillip C

Very happy with my representation and fair fees by Andrew, I highly recommend him.


Damian A

I found dealing with Andrew Williams Law Firms to be quite pleasant and professional. I have nothing but utmost regard for this firm and would recommend anyone who needs a good criminal lawyer.


Andrew H

If you want to get the best lawyer money can buy and get results? Look no further than Andrew Williams and get him in your corner. Not only is he a great guy I found his legal services very professional and knowledgeable and his attention to detail was faultless. This was a very tumultuous time in my life I was facing two criminal charges and my anxiety and stress levels were through the roof, but thanks to Andrew's cool calm and confident demeanor he was able to walk me through it and keep me focused every step of the way. I was acquitted in both cases thanks to Andrew. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you again Andrew you did a fantastic job. My advice to anyone facing Criminal charges would be to phone Andrew as soon as possible.


Dan G

Go to top