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Character reference for court

Written by Criminal Lawyers Brisbane Group

27 February 2022

In a criminal proceeding, a character reference is a letter from a person to the Court. The person provides the reference to support the defendant’s case. It is one of the best ways a criminal lawyer can tell the Court about their client’s character. Sometimes, a character reference can be the most important piece of evidence in a defendant’s case.

When a person is sentenced for a criminal offence in Queensland, the law says the Court must consider the person’s character.  One way the Court can learn about a person’s character is by a character reference.

The character reference doesn’t need to come from important people in the community. This person could be your husband, wife, family member, friend or work colleague. The most important thing is that the person providing the reference knows you and can speak of your good character.




There are no hard and fast rules about how a character reference should be structured. But, there are some general guidelines about what should be included.



If you have a letterhead, use it.  If you own your own business or work for a company and you are allowed to place the reference on a letterhead, do it. A letterhead can help give the Court a better understanding of who you are and your position in the community. It also shows the Court you are employed, which is always a positive factor.


Have The Character Reference Typed

If possible, a character reference should be typed. When a character reference is typed, it avoids any potential issues of the Judge or Magistrate not being able to read what you have written.


The Character Reference Should Be Addressed “To the Sentencing Magistrate” or “To the Sentencing Judge

It is important to address the character reference properly. It shows the Magistrate or Judge you know who is going to be reading it. It further demonstrates you know it is not just a general character reference.

If your matter is in the Magistrates Court, then it should be addressed to “The Sentencing Magistrate”. An example for the Brisbane Magistrates Court is as follows:

The Sentencing Magistrate

Brisbane Magistrates Court

363 George Street



If your matter is in the District or Supreme Court, then your reference should be addressed to “The Sentencing Judge”. An example for the Brisbane District Court is:

The Sentencing Judge

Brisbane District Court

QEII Courts of Law Complex

415 George Street

Brisbane QLD 4000


Use a Heading

You should use the name of the person you are writing about as a heading. For example, you could centre a heading “Character reference for Name of the person”.


State Who You Are

You need to tell the Court who you are, and your occupation and any qualifications you hold.


How You Came To Meet Them

You then need to tell the Court what your relationship with the defendant is, and how long you have known them. By telling the Court how long you have known the defendant for helps to show the level of insight you may have in the defendant’s background. If you have only known the defendant for a week, this would have far less weight than had you known them for many years.


Show You Know What Charges The Defendant Is Pleading Guilty To

For your reference to have any weight in the Court, you must show you know about the offences the defendant is pleading guilty to. The Judge or Magistrate needs to be satisfied you are providing the reference for the defendant with knowledge of the offences. If you don’t mention the offences, the Judge or Magistrate will say the reference is useless because the person providing it doesn’t say they know about the offences.


You don’t need to list every offence if there are many. If you know the defendant is pleading guilty to drug charges, then you could say something like “I am aware Name of Defendant is pleading guilty to drug charges”.


Find Out If The Defendant Has Been In Trouble For This Criminal Offence Before 

You need to find out if the defendant has previously been convicted of the same or a similar offence. There is no point saying the offence is out of character for the defendant if they have been convicted of a similar or the same offence in the past. A reference like this will not be used.


Your Opinion Of The Defendant’s Personality 

What is your opinion of the defendant’s personality? Think about the qualities of the person you believe the Judge or Magistrate should know about. Try and give as much detail as possible backed up by examples. If you say the defendant is a kind and caring person, back it up with an example to demonstrate why you say they are kind and caring.


Any Positive Things You Can Say About Their Behaviour, Activities etc. 

You may want to mention things the defendant has done for you, your family, your business, sporting club or association. Questions you may ask yourself in deciding what to write are:

  • Has the defendant helped you or your family in anyway?
  • Has the defendant been involved in any volunteer work?
  • Is the defendant involved in any clubs or sporting organisations?
  • Is the defendant dedicated to their family or friends?

It is important to explain the good qualities a person has.


Other Matters 

Include any other positive information you think is relevant to help the defendant’s case.


Be Signed and Dated

Sign and date the character reference. Signing and dating the character reference authenticates it and shows the Court it was prepared for this case.


Include Your Contact Information 

Include your contact information such as your address and phone number. The inclusion of your phone number will allow the lawyer to contact you if any issue with your reference arises.




Get The Character Reference To The Lawyer Early 

It is important you get the character reference to the lawyer early in advance of the court event. This will allow the lawyer time to review the reference and ask you to make amendments if needed. It will also allow the lawyer to have the information about the defendant early on so they can use it in preparing the case.


How Many Character References Should I Get? 

There is no magic number of how many character references a person should get. Get as many references as you can and your lawyer will decide how many to use. It will also give your lawyer the opportunity to select which ones they want to use.


Be Truthful

Always he honest and truthful in a character reference If you deceive or mislead the court in a reference this may lead to criminal consequences for you.


Do Not Suggest The Penalty The Magistrate or Judge Should Impose 



Get legal advice from an experienced Brisbane Criminal Lawyer. Criminal Law is a complex area of law and requires the help of a criminal lawyer. An experienced criminal lawyer will take the stress of the process away from you and help guide you to achieve you the best possible outcome. Don’t think you need to fight a criminal offence on your own. The Criminal Lawyers Brisbane Group are here to help! Our lawyers are here to answer questions and explain the process and your options to you.


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