VIC Good Tips for Writing a Character Reference for Court?

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Kathleen M

8 April 2014
I have a criminal law question - I have to write a character reference for my friend who is going to court for a theft / stealing charge in Melbourne. Can anyone pass on some good tips for writing a character reference for court?

Paul Q

8 April 2014
It's a big responsibility to write a good character reference as the court will take it into account when sentencing your friend. Your character reference is important in providing your detailed and intimate view of what your friend is like and can influence the court's impression of your friend.

I've referenced a few website sources which have character reference templates and examples for you to look at (, I've tried to summarise the most useful information for you below.

Before you write your character reference, consider:
a) What is the criminal charge? (You know that it is a theft charge.)
b) Is this your friend's first offence, or a subsequent offence?
c) Which court is handling the case?
d) What are your friend's positive attributes?
e) How will a criminal sentence affect your friend's job, family, etc.?

In your character reference, you should write about:
Who you are, what your job is and include any qualifications you hold.
Your relationship to your friend:
How have you come to know your friend? How long have you known them? How often do you see or call them? What is your friend like when interacting with people in the community? Is your friend a good friend? Why?

You've been asked to write a character reference because you know your friend well and are able to give some personal anecdotes to support your opinion. As a friend, you can write a character reference that demonstrates a good familiarity with your friend.

Your knowledge of your friend's criminal charge:
Has your friend talked with you about the charge and why they are going to court?

Your knowledge of your how your friend feels about what they have done:
a) Are they sorry for what they did?
b) How have they shown that they're sorry? Eg, have they been distressed or upset?
c) Have they gone to counselling?
d) Has your friend suffered any hardship or punishment because of committing the offence? Eg, did they lose their job, was their reputation damaged, do they feel disgraced in their community or among family and friends?

Your knowledge of what's going on in your friend's life:
a) What do you know of your friend's background (including family, education and job history) and any hardship in their life?
b) Are there any personal problems that may have played a part in what they did? Eg, financial issues, medical issues, drug or alcohol use, mental illness. What are they doing to overcome these problems?

What is your opinion of your friend's general character and reputation in the community?
Do you believe that the offence was out of character, and if so, why?

Has your friend contributed to their community (for example, by doing voluntary work) or had special achievements in their job or schooling, or sporting activities?

There are some important technical/formatting things to remember as well. You character reference should:
  1. be typed.
  2. be signed and dated (also include your contact information so that the court can contact you if they need to clarify anything).
  3. be written on letterhead and state your position or qualifications (if any).
  4. be addressed to the appropriate person (eg in Victoria, the Sentencing Magistrate if the matter is listed in the Magistrates' Court, or the Sentencing Judge if the matter is listed in the County or Supreme Courts).
  5. start with Your Honour.

Jennifer B

9 April 2014
Remember to let the court know about all your friend's positive qualities, because its unlikely that they know that about them - they're only seeing your friend because of something negative they did that was against the criminal law. Give specific examples.

Make sure that you don't:

a) give any information that could be false or misleading.
b) suggest what penalty your friend should receive.
c) criticise the law, police or anyone involved in the case.
If you're really unsure about something specific relating to your character reference, you could have a quick call with your friend's lawyer.