Making use of character references in court
19 Nov 2015
- Criminal Law
You are not formally required to be legally represented in court for a drink or drug driving matter, however there are many advantages in doing so. For some people this includes a significant reduction in stress related to appearing in court, and for others it provides assurance that the key issues which are pertinent to the case will be put forward to the court.
For people who do not wish to be formally represented, careful preparation must be completed to give you the best possible legal outcome on you matter.
A key part of preparation, whether the defendant is self represented or has a lawyer, is making a personal statement, in a letter format, and obtaining letters from referees, called character references.
Character references are letters from your friends, employers and family which are designed to be handed to the Magistrate in court. These letters are given after you have entered a plea of guilty in relation to an offence. Character references are an efficient way to present evidence about your character, without the referee having to give oral evidence in court. The letter should be as comprehensive as possible without disclosing irrelevant details. The following are some basic guidelines for the preparation of character references:
- Each character reference should be addressed “to the Presiding Magistrate”.
- The letter should be neatly written or typed, signed with the name of the person printed underneath, and dated. The original should be given to the Magistrate and a copy will be needed for the prosecution.
- The referee should be aware of the offence and should disclose that knowledge and any other offences known to the referee, in the reference. The reference should disclose the circumstances of the person giving the reference, what they do and any position that they may hold in their community.
- The reference should disclose how long the referee has known the person and also set out upon what basis the referee has contact with the person (e.g. as an employer, workmate, priest, teacher, team member, a family friend, flatmate etc.).
- Only if applicable or relevant, the referee should indicate their knowledge of any difficulties with health, work or family situations which the person has been dealing with.
- Only if applicable or relevant, the referee should include any other details such as volunteer work which the person has completed etc.
- It is important not to suggest to the court the desired sentencing options, (for example – the letter should not say ‘the person should not be disqualified from driving’).
- The reference should also not specifically invite/indicate that the referee can be contacted in relation to the reference as in practice this rarely occurs and may indicate to the Magistrate that there is something that the referee wishes to say but is not prepared to put it in writing.
If you are seeking assistance with your upcoming matter, our team will work with you to give you guidance through the process, to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved based in your particular situation. Contact our Criminal Law team today.