Instructions for preparing a character reference
These instructions are to help you prepare a character reference. They are not legal advice.
For a sample, see Sample character reference.
If you need more help, call LawAccess NSW.
Character references are letters written by people who know you and who can write about your good character. These people (referees) should have a good reputation and should not have a criminal record.
A referee may be:
- a neighbour
- your employer or a work colleague
- your doctor
- a teacher
- a family friend
- a member of a club or organisation that you belong to, for example a local sporting club, community group or a church or other religious organisation.
You should avoid asking people under the age of 18 to prepare a character reference.
You should be willing to tell your referee about the offence. This is because it is important that the referee say that they are aware of the offence, but are still happy to describe you as someone of 'good character'.
If you are asking a person to prepare a character reference for you, you can print off these instructions and give it to them to help them complete your reference.
Character references should:
- be on a white A4 piece of a paper
- be neatly written or typed
- be dated
- have the referee's name and address on the right hand side
- be addressed "To the Presiding Magistrate" of the court that you have to go to
- be signed with the name of the person printed underneath.
The referee should include each of the following points:
- their name and occupation
- that they are aware that you are appearing in court to respond to the charges/offence
- that they are aware of how you are responding to the charges (pleading guilty or not guilty)
- how long they have known you
- how they know you, for example, employer, workmate, priest, teacher, team member, family friend, flat mate
- their opinion of your character
- anything else about the charges which might help the court.
The reference should not include the following:
- the referee's opinion about the appropriate penalty
- any irrelevant information
- a statement that the offence is 'out of character' if you have committed other similar offences in the past
- any statement that the referee knows is false, or does not agree with.
You should take the original letter and three copies to court. The original will be kept by the court. You will need to give one copy to the prosecutor, keep one for your records and have a spare.