References for court

A character reference written by someone who knows you well can be helpful when you go to court. Character references show the court that people in your daily life think highly of you, even though you have broken the law.

The magistrate or judge will read the character reference before deciding what penalty to give. References can have a big impact on the sentence that you receive and can be important when applying for a Spent Conviction Order.

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This information will help you if you need to collect character references to use in court. Find out:

  • who can provide a character reference
  • what a reference should (and should not) include, and
  • what to include if you need a letter from a doctor or counsellor.

Who can provide a character reference to be used in court?

Character references are most helpful when:

  • they are written by someone with good standing or in an important position in the community, and
  • the person has known you for a long time.

This could be a respected member of the community, past or present employers, teachers, doctors, priests or church leaders, sports coaches, people involved in running a club or association, or even family friends and neighbours.

An employer might not be able to say much about your character, other than what they know from how you behave at work. But a short letter from your employer can still be useful to show the court that you are currently working and can act responsibly.

Family members can also provide references to help explain what problems you might have in your personal life and to show the court that you have their support in trying to turn things around.

What should a character reference say?

A single page is long enough for a reference. The character reference should:

  • be written recently, specifically for your court appearance
  • identify who is providing the reference
  • explain how the writer knows you, for how long, and why they think you are a good person
  • say that the writer is aware of why you are in court (what you have been charged with), and
  • explain why the person believes your behaviour is out of character, based on what they know about you.

Your reference should be addressed to the Presiding Magistrate (or Judge if you are in the District or Supreme Court). It should be typed or neatly hand written. It should be dated and must be signed.

What should it avoid mentioning?

Character references should not:

  • attempt to discuss legal matters
  • say that you did not commit the offence
  • blame the victim or other people for what happened
  • try to make excuses for what you did or make guesses about why you behaved that way, or 
  • suggest what specific penalty or outcome you should or should not receive.

What if I'm applying for a Spent Conviction Order?

If you are applying for a Spent Conviction Order when you are being sentenced, it can be very helpful to provide a couple of character references to support your application. 

The character references should include the right things mentioned above, and also say:

  • why the writer thinks you are unlikely to commit a similar offence again, and
  • if they know about any negative impacts that a conviction will have on your future, if a Spent Conviction Order is not made.

What if I have medical issues or have been going to counselling?

Information from your doctors, psychologists, or counsellors can be useful for the court to have when sentencing you. It can explain what medical or personal issues you had at the time of the offence, as well as explaining what assistance and treatment you have had since that time. 

The court can take this into account when deciding what penalty is appropriate for your offence.

If possible, a letter from a doctor or counsellor should:

  • be recently written, specifically to be used in court
  • mention that they are aware of the charges you have in court
  • explain why they are treating you, how long they have known you, and how often they see you
  • give brief details of your relevant medical conditions, diagnoses, medications or treatment (including counselling), and
  • outline how you have responded under their care and what future treatment is planned or needed.

The letter should be addressed to the Presiding Magistrate (or Judge if you are in the District or Supreme Court). It should be typed on a business letterhead. It should be dated and must be signed. 

 

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Reviewed: 11 April 2018

Disclaimer

The information displayed on this page is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia aims to provide information that is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information provided on this page or incorporated into it by reference.