08 7111 0375

First consultation free



- By Naomi Hill

In criminal law and traffic cases, when a Court finds a person guilty of an offence, it must impose a penalty for the crime. An important part of this process is character references. A good character reference can often persuade the Court to impose a less severe penalty on the accused person, so it’s a good idea to know what’s involved.

An image of architectural detail from the United States Supreme Court building.  There are circular pillars visible in a row.  The pillars are white.  Each pillar has a block at the bottom, followed by three circular lines going all around them.  Vertical lines come next in an alternating pattern of sunken lines and protruding ones.  There are six pillars visible in the image, but only their lower parts can be seen.  The floor has white tiles.  There is sunlight coming from the front of the building, creating shadows behind the pillars.


What is a character reference?

A character reference is a letter written about the accused by someone they know well. The person who writes the reference is known as a “referee”.

Character references are used to mitigate, or reduce, the possible penalty that may be handed down to the accused person.

There are a number of ways to mitigate the penalty that will be imposed by the Court. An accused (often through their lawyer) can provide medical reports that explain the accused’s actions or circumstances. They may call witnesses to attest to the accused’s lifestyle. For example, if an accused is guilty of a driving offence, witnesses may give evidence about how loss of licence would cause severe disruption to the accused’s life and family.  The Court will often accept letters from character referees instead of hearing evidence from them.

Mitigation is an accepted and important part of the sentencing process and the Court expects an accused (or their lawyer) to make submissions in mitigation. Some people take the view that because they are guilty of committing the crime, they should also just accept whatever punishment the Court imposes. But this can make the punishment unnecessarily harsh, especially because the Court has an expectation that there will be submissions in mitigation.

Who should provide a character reference?

In essence, a character reference is a letter to the Court from someone who knows the accused very well. It doesn’t have to be a person who has an important job or is held in high regard by society (for example, a priest, politician or football player). The referee could be someone who has known the accused for a long time or someone who has had a lot of contact with the accused over a much shorter period, for example:

  • An employer.
  • A fellow worker.
  • A friend.
  • Someone who can talk about the accused’s community service.

What is important is that the person can tell the Court about the accused – what they’re like as a person, how they contribute to society, the difficulties that the accused and/or their loved ones will face if a harsh penalty is imposed. This gives the Court a sense of what kind of person they are.

It is up to the accused to ask people they know provide them with character references. This means that the referees must write a letter to the Court. Often, it is easier for people to agree if they have information about what to include in a reference and have some guidance about how to set out the letter. Further information can be accessed by clicking here for criminal offences, and by clicking here for traffic offences.

What it should say

There are a number of things that should be included in a character reference, including:

  • The referee’s name, job and any qualifications.
  • How long the referee has known the accused and how they know each other.
  • The charges against the accused.
  • Whether they believe the accused is sorry for the offending why they believe this.
  • Whether they believe the accused’s actions were out of character and if so, why.
  • Whether the accused contributes to the community, for example by volunteering.
  • Whether the accused was experiencing hardship at the time of the incident and whether they are likely to suffer hardship if a severe penalty is imposed.
  • Which of the accused’s personal qualities the referee likes or admires.
  • For traffic offences, discuss how a loss of licence might impact upon the accused.

For more detailed information, click here for criminal offences and click here for traffic offences.

How to set out the letter

Character references shouldn’t be lengthy but must include all the relevant information and should be properly addressed to the Court. They should also include the referee’s name and contact details. It is also important that the letter is dated.

We provide a useful template for setting out a character reference, which is available to anyone. To access the templates, click here for criminal offences and click here for traffic offences.

When facing a penalty for a criminal or traffic offence, a character reference is an important part of the sentencing process that can often help to reduce the severity of a penalty. Even though it might appear to be a minor detail, it is a significant and powerful aspect of mitigation.

If you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence, contact us today for a free first interview. Because the sooner you act, often the better off you’ll be.







Having such a short time frame I was very impressed with the outcome made by [my solicitor]. Excellent and timely manner


Kurralta Park

Very professional mannerism and overall great outcome was delivered by Websters Lawyers.


West Ryde NSW

Helpful, explained fully, patient, excellent service.



Patient and helpful in explaining the process.



Call Websters Lawyers for a most professional and friendly service. All understanding with [my solicitors] and the reception staff. Thank you so much.



Making my will was effortless on my part, with everything explained clearly. Well done to all.



Great service, professional, explains things clearly, definitely recommend Websters Lawyers.


Upper Hermitage

Patient, professional, good communication about procedures and probable outcomes.



Thank you for all your work over the course of the case. You [both] were always very approachable and I appreciated your understanding and professionalism in all areas.


Christie Downs

All in all my experience was great. Thank you for your time and expertise.


Seacombe Gardens

My matter was dealt with efficiently and was explained in an understandable language. A pleasant experience.



Practical and very helpful. Reasons and explanations given where needed



I stumbled across Websters in the Yellow Pages and I rang, explained my situation and immediately they took my case on. Greatly appreciate their services.



The service from Websters Lawyers was outstanding. [My solicitor] was caring, had patience and was very professional. Wonderful personality.



[My solicitor] made everything so simple to understand. [The receptionist] was wicked too, would recommend them anytime. Level of entire service was outstanding.


Golden Grove


I had dealings with Websters over 20 years ago. They were my first choice when I recently needed legal advice. Both legal and office staff were professional, courteous and accessible at all times. Everything was explained up front in a clear and concise manner. I would not hesitate to recommend their services.



It has truly been a pleasure communicating with you throughout the process. I really appreciate your patient and speedy replies to my questions and requests. You were always able to provide an easily understood response and this helped me deal with the process. Your friendly and positive manner encouraged me to seek your advice.


Battery Hill QLD

Contact us

Adelaide Office :
T: ( 08 ) 8231 1363
F: ( 08 ) 8231 5529

Ridgehaven Office :
T: ( 08 ) 8395 8000
F: ( 08 ) 8395 8222

Smithfield Office :
T: ( 08 ) 8487 0150
F: ( 08 ) 8395 8222

© Copyright WebstersLawyers.com 2016 All Rights Reserved
Website By A to Z Marketing