A character reference is a letter written by a person who knows you and can tell the court about your good character. In all the states including New South Wales a character reference can help the court to understand a bit more about you as a person and may help you to receive a lesser penalty. You can provide the court with more than one reference, but remember that the quality of the references are more important than the quantity. The person who writes your reference should be an adult and have a good reputation and must not have a criminal record. They may be your employer, your doctor, your spiritual advisor, a teacher or a member of a group or organisation that you are associated with. The referee should be someone who is able to talk about your good relationships within the community or about your exemplary character and performance at work or school. It is helpful if they are able to provide details that support the issues that are to be put to the court. If your charge is a traffic matter and there is a risk that you will lose your licence for a period of time, a referee who can verify your need for a licence may be useful.
A character reference is set out as a letter. It is preferable that it is typed and, if possible, on a letter head. On the top right hand side it should have the referee’s name, address and telephone number. It must be dated. On the left hand side, it is addressed to the relevant New South Wales court. For a Local or a Children’s Court, it should be addressed to The Presiding Magistrate [the name of the court you are going to]. For a District or Supreme Court, it is addressed to The Presiding Judge [the name of the court that you are going to]. The salutation (where you would normally put Dear Sir or Madam) should read “Your Honour.” It must be signed with the name of the person printed underneath. You should take the original letter (for the court) and a copy for the Prosecutor with you to the court.
The reference should say how the referee knows you and how long they have known you. It should say that you have told them about the offence, and should name the specific offence. If you have previously been convicted of an offence, particularly if it was a similar offence, it is important that the referee can say that they know that, and that despite that they still consider you to be someone of good character. They can also point out any role you have in the community, such as involvement in sporting groups, schools or charities, or being a helpful neighbour, or your good work or school history. They should comment if you have expressed remorse for what you have done and can talk about the impact that the offence or the arrest and appearing in court has had on you personally. If they know of any personal circumstances that may have led to up to the offence, they can comment on these. The reference should be relevant to the offence. If the offence is an offence of violence, the reference should comment on your character relating to violence. For an offence relating to the use or overuse of drugs or alcohol the reference should cover issues relating to that, such as how you are taking steps to be more responsible with alcohol or trying to address the drug use. For a traffic offence, if the loss of your licence will have a great impact on your life they should state this. For example, if the referee is your employer and the loss of licence will impact upon the business, or will lead to you losing your job it should clearly state this.
Your referee should not be critical of the law, the police or any victim. They should not suggest that the blame, or any part of it, should be shifted to others. They should not tell the court what penalty it should impose. This includes telling the court that you should not be sent to gaol, or should not lose your licence. They can only comment on the impact that these events would have on your life. They must not say anything that is not true. Misleading the court is a criminal offence.