How to Write a Character Reference

How to Write a Character Reference

Usually when your criminal matters are proceeding to sentence before the Magistrates, District or Supreme courts, your solicitor or barrister will ask you to prepare something called a “character reference” for court.

References should be obtained from people who have known you or have had contact with you for some time (e.g. family, friends or colleagues). They should therefore be able to vouch for and describe your usual character and advise whether the charges before the court are out of character.

The referee MUST be aware of the charges before the court, they must acknowledge the charges in the letter, and provide relevant contact details should their solicitor or the court need to contact them to confirm the legitimacy of the reference provided. It is an offence to be misleading or untruthful in a reference letter.

Character Reference Outline

Referees should include the following information in their letter to the court:

  • Their occupation (eg. home duties, tradesman, etc.); and
  • A brief paragraph setting out their background; and
  • Details of how long they have known you for and under what circumstances (this gives the Magistrate/Judge an indication of why their comments in relation to your character should be noted); and
  • They are aware of the charges that are being faced by you and that you are to present yourself in the Magistrate/District/Supreme Court, in the near future and that the reference has been provided with this in mind; and
  • Details of any positive attributes they feel you have. They should mention any positive community, family, employment etc. contributions you have made.

The Referee Should Avoid Including the Following Information

As the matter is proceeding to sentence, the referee should not say or imply that you are innocent of the offence. They instead should note that it is out of your character.

They should also not deal with penalty as this is a matter for the Magistrate or Judge to decide.

Basic Letter Writing Skills

In writing the letter, the referee should not forget to:

  • Date the letter; and
  • Address the letter to the relevant courthouse; and
  • Write the subject of the letter as your name and date of birth; and
  • Sign the letter.

Other tips

  • The letter should not exceed two pages in length; and
  • Two- or three-character references is a suitable number of references to hand up to the court; and
  • Honesty is the best policy; and
  • The reference should be formulated in the referee’s own words. Expressing disappointment in the behaviour or at the actions may be part of that if necessary; and
  • The reference may be handwritten, but a typed reference is preferable, if possible.

If you cannot obtain reference letters

If you are unable to obtain character references, we recommend you drafting a letter of apology addressed to the court outlining your usual character and any details of your background. If applicable, you can also try to obtain letters from therapy or counselling services that you may have undertaken prior to sentencing.


Bouchier Khan Lawyers is experienced in appearing in a range of sentencing matters, whether it is before the Magistrates Court, District Court or Supreme Court. Obtaining advice from one of our expert lawyers is recommended if you have an upcoming sentence.

We have offices in Toowoomba, Ipswich, and Brisbane, but can attend other jurisdictions in Queensland if required.

Book an appointment with one of our expert criminal defence lawyers today.

Amy Zanders, Solicitor

This article is of a general nature and is intended for information only. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstance, please contact us at Bouchier Khan Lawyers.