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How to write a reference for court

In almost all cases in the Local Court, good character references will help us, to HELP YOU.

Who should supply a reference?

  1. Someone who has known you for at least 5 years.
  2. This might be a boss, a long-term friend, someone you work with or a well-known member of the community (but generally not an immediate family member).


Ideally, your referee has ‘good standing’ or ‘respect’ in the community. For example, a school principal, a retired police officer, a priest, a lawyer, a doctor or nurse – but this isn’t essential.  If you don’t know someone like this, then don’t worry about it.  (Talk to us, and we’ll figure out your best options for a referee).

What goes in the Reference:

i. typed is generally better than handwritten.

ii. Date – must be current

iii. Addressed to “the Presiding Magistrate” or “Your Honour”

iv. One or two sentences about the person writing the reference. For example: “I have been the manager at Woolworths, Lismore, for 7 years.  I am also a volunteer fire-fighter and life-saver.”)

v. Mention the offence(s) – it is important the referee tells the Magistrate they know the reference is being used for a Court appearance, and what the nature of the offence(s) are. For example: “Alex told me this court appearance is related to a charge for mid-range drink driving, and spitting at a police officer.”)

vi. One or two sentences about how the referee knows you and maybe how often you have contact. For example: “I have known Alex for 9 years, since we met in high school.  Alex is a trusted friend of my family and is a regular visitor to our home for dinner or social catch-up”  OR if your boss is writing the reference, an example might be: “I have been Alex’s manager at Byron Car Sales for 4 years where Alex has worked full time, initially as a junior, then promoted to full time sales staff.”)

vii. One or two sentences about your general character – please have the referee use their own words to describe you For example: “I have always known Alex to be an honest person”, or “Alex is reliable and dependable and trustworthy”, or “in my experience Alex is a law-abiding, civic-minded person, and I am surprised Alex has found him/her self in this position” or “Alex is generally so mindful of his obligations to other people, this seems entirely out of character”.

viii. A sentence about your state of mind in relation to the offence, if they have one. For example: if the referee is your boss, or your neighbour, or someone you have spoken to about the offence, your referee may be in a position to state that in their observation you are “genuinely remorseful”, or “sad”, or “concerned about the impact you could have had if you had an accident” or “Alex seems genuinely troubled by her/his behaviour that night because it is so unlike Alex”.  However it may be that your referee is a long-term family friend who lives interstate and they haven’t spoken, in-depth, with you about the offence, in which case, they shouldn’t write anything about how you feel.

ix. A sentence about how the referee thinks a conviction or sentence will impact your life or job or plans for the future (if there referee is in a position to do this). For example: if your boss is referee (s)he may state “If Alex is disqualified from driving for more than 3 months, I will have to terminate her/his employment” or if it’s a family friend “I am aware Alex plans to travel overseas for an extended period starting next year, and a conviction for may render this impossible or at least very difficult”.

x. Any closing remarks or additional general observations the referee thinks is relevant.

xi. Sign it. Include contact details (ideally a mobile phone number)

Things for a referee to avoid:

  • Do not write what they do not know to be true. DO NOT lie. Or embellish.
  • Do not tell the Magistrate what to do – this is particularly relevant when writing how the referee thinks a conviction or sentence will affect you. Never tell the Magistrate what sentence to impose or avoid.
  • Do not offer an opinion on details the referee doesn’t know about. In most instances, the referee wasn’t there at the time of the offence, so (s)he can’t offer an opinion like “Alex wasn’t very drunk at the time….”, or a boss can’t say “Alex has anxiety issues that seemed to trigger her/his aggression” or “The punch was out of character but the victim wasn’t that badly hurt”.
  • Do not use my example above. Have the referee use their own language, and examples.
  • Therapists and counsellors and doctors and other professionals will generally not need this document as they generally have their own approach to writing reports or references or statements.
  • Letter to the victim

    If pleading guilty, it is sometimes appropriate to write to the victim and apologise. It shows remorse.  We can talk about whether or not that is appropriate in your circumstance.

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