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Character References in South Australia

In South Australia, a character reference written by a person in the community with a good reputation can assist the court to better understand your case and may even lead to a lighter penalty. This applies no matter what kind of offence you have been charged with, (drink driving, assault, traffic).

Whilst character references have the ability to greatly impact upon the outcome of your case, there are many guidelines that have been imposed in South Australia that must be followed when writing a character reference. These have been provided below in general terms to help understand what it is you can and cannot include in a character reference.

Who can write the reference?


Anybody in the community can write a character reference for you, this includes employers (both past and present), family members, neighbours, medical practitioners or anybody else in the community with a good reputation. The most important thing to remember when choosing a referee is that they must be able to provide details about your life and also list specific instances where you have displayed positive character traits.

If you are also currently undertaking counselling or rehabilitation, it may be a good idea to request a reference from your medical practitioner to show the court that you are taking steps to correct the behaviour that led to you committing the current offence.

What not to say in a Character Reference

The court will not accept a character reference that is written in a discourteous manner. The reference must at all times be written in a formal tone, showing respect to the Judge. You can better ensure that your character reference meets these requirements by avoiding the following errors;

  •  Do not include details that are irrelevant to the offence committed
  • Do not write the reference as a legal opinion
  • Do not lie in the reference as this is punishable by the court
  • Do not provide sentencing suggestions to the court
  • Do not provide an opinion on the fairness of the charge laid against the offender

How to set out the structure of a character reference

Character references should always adhere to the following structural guidelines;

  • The reference should be printed on white A4 paper
  • The reference should be typed and on letterhead, unless a written reference is absolutely necessary
  • The reference should include a date and signature of the referee

The reference should be addressed to “The Presiding Judge/Magistrate” and also include the referees contact information

How to write a character reference

The South Australian courts require that the following points be included in the character reference. These requirements are strict and will be enforced by the court.

  •  The referee must print their name and profession and their standing in the community
  • The referee must show the court that they know the charge against the offender and whether they are pleading guilty or not guilty
  • The referee must explain to the court how they have come to know the offender and in what capacity
  • The referee must provide details of the offenders positive character traits, this will include any personal stories of the referee’s experience with the offender
  • The referee must explain to the court how a severe penalty will affect the offenders life (family, children, occupation)
  • The referee must state whether the offender has completed any rehabilitation or counselling to correct their behaviour

Different references for different charges

The above information should serve as a general guideline as to what may be included in a character reference. Each charge will require the referee to draw on different aspects of the offender’s character as relevant to the specific charges.

In a drink driving offence, the referee will largely refer to the rehabilitation of the offender and explain to the court that the offender has taken steps to ensure they will not operate a vehicle whilst intoxicated.

Where the person has been charged with assault the character reference will draw on the offenders past and how they have not typically displayed signs of aggression or violence. The referee may also draw the courts attention to any counselling or medication the offender is receiving to ensure they are not a continuing threat to society.

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