MMH Lawyers publication

A Guide to Character References for the Magistrates’ Court

Character references are a useful tool in a defence solicitor’s arsenal during a plea hearing in the Magistrates’ Court. They give the Magistrate an insight into the accused’s character which only their family, friends and colleagues can provide. I am regularly asked what a character reference should include. Although the content of each character reference is unique to the person they are written for, there are some features a character reference must include to be properly relied upon in court.

Dated

The character reference must be dated to satisfy the Magistrate it is a contemporaneous, and thus, relevant document.

Properly Addressed

The character reference must be addressed to ‘the presiding Magistrate’. This shows deference to the court and also demonstrates that the author of the reference knows their letter is being used in court.

Acknowledge the Matter

The author of the character reference must acknowledge in their letter the offences the accused person has been charged with. This again satisfies the court that the author is aware of the matters before the court validating their views about the accused person. Without this, a Magistrate may query whether the author’s views of the accused person expressed in the letter are properly informed. This must be done with care and attention to detail because the accused person’s charges may have changed during the proceeding. It would be counter-productive for the author of the character reference to refer to withdrawn charges.

Signed

The author of the character reference must sign the bottom of the document and should offer their contact details.

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