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Character References in Tasmania

Character references are a tool that can be used to influence the outcome of a criminal matter. This is because the testimony of the people in a defendant’s life can show the court the sort of life they lead and allow it to see the offending in context. If you ever find yourself charged with a simple drink driving/traffic infringement or a more serious offence such as assault, a well-written character reference may be able to assist your case.

In Tasmania, there are various guidelines that must be followed when writing a character reference for the court. A reference that complies with these guidelines may help you in demonstrating to the court that you are of good character aside from the offence you have committed. Ultimately, this may result in a more lenient penalty being handed down.

Who can write the reference?

A character reference needs to be detailed enough to include very specific examples of your character and involvement in every day life. Any person may act as your referee as there are no strict rules set by the court in this regard. However, the most helpful references are those written by people who know you in the context of work, study or business. References from employers, colleagues, teachers and business associates will be more persuasive to the court than those written by family or friends.

What you should include in a character reference

As stated above, the Tasmanian court imposes very strict guidelines as to what they will accept a character reference.

These guidelines are set out below:

  •  The reference should explain the context in which the writer knows you and how long they have known you
  • The character reference should be addressed to the court
  • The reference should not include the writer’s opinion about the sentence you should receive or seek to make excuses for your offending
  • The reference must state that the writer knows about the charges you are facing
  • The reference must be signed and dated
  • The reference must not include aggressive or impolite language

When you are organising a character reference, remember that you are presenting the document in court and therefore must observe proper court etiquette at all times.

How to structure a character reference

The character reference should be set out like a letter and must include the following:

  •  The letter should be dated at the top and include the referee’s personal information
  • The reference should be kept to a one page maximum
  • The reference should be printed on letterhead if provided on behalf of an organisation and typed if possible. Handwritten references will only be accepted if clear and legible
  • The letter should be addressed to ‘The Presiding Magistrate’ or ‘The Presiding Judge’ as relevant and any further references to the judge or magistrate should be ‘Your Honour’

How to write a character reference

It is important to remember that the character reference should be written in a formal tone but also needs to be written in the voice of the referee.

The following guidelines should be followed:

  • The referee should introduce themselves, including details as to their standing in the community and relationship to the offender.
  • The reference should include an acknowledgement that the referee understands the nature of the charges that have been laid against the offender.
  • The reference should include precise details (including personal experiences) that show the offender’s good character.

Further information

In addition to the general content guidelines set out above, it is important to tailor the character reference to discuss the specific issues highlighted by the offence committed.

A character reference for a drink driving offence will need to include details of steps the offender’s has taken towards addressing their alcohol consumption. When writing a reference for an assault offence, the referee will need to include details that demonstrate to the court that the offender is not usually violent or steps they have taken to address their anger issues.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Michelle Makela

Michelle Makela is a Legal Practice Director at Go To Court Lawyers. She holds a Juris Doctor, a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Master of Criminology. She was admitted to practice in 2006. Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning. 

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