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How to write support letters for a client who is going to the Magistrates Court

When a person is facing a criminal charge it can be helpful to their case if they are able to obtain some character references from independent adults (not family members) who can comment on their character and/or personal circumstances. The following is a list of what a court support letter in relation to a criminal charge should include. The letter should:

  • Have the contact name and address of the person writing the letter
  • Have the date the letter is written
  • Be addressed: To the Presiding Magistrate
  • State who you are (your name and occupation and qualifications (if relevant)) and in what capacity you know the person facing the charge (eg friend, boss, doctor, support worker, counsellor etc)
  • If relevant, describe the nature of the organisation through which the person facing the charge knows you (eg describe the support service)
  • State how long you have known the person facing the charge
  • Indicate that you are aware that the person facing the charge has been charged with an offence (be as specific as possible and name the charge eg Driving under the influence of alcohol or a prohibited substance)
  • Provide some comments on the person facing the charge’s personal circumstances and character, without using extravagant language or exaggerating
  • If relevant, provide information about how you can support the person facing the charge in the future (eg continue to provide counselling / support etc)
  • Provide a contact phone number in case the court wants further information.

Other points to remember:

  • Only original documents can be given to the court so please provide an original letter, not a photocopy
  • The court cannot accept a letter written for another purpose. The letter must address the charge the person is facing on the day
  • If providing medical evidence it is not necessary to also comment on the person’s character. A medical letter also does not need to make reference to the charge
  • Don’t suggest outcomes or punishments. Sentencing is the Magistrate’s role.

Disclaimer

The material in this fact sheet is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this publication without first getting legal advice about their particular situations.
If you would like more information, please contact Street Law on (02) 6218 7900 or info@canberracommunitylaw.org.au. Street Law is a program of Canberra Community Law Ltd.
© Canberra Community Law Ltd. Not to be reproduced without permission or acknowledgement.
Last updated: 14 May 2021

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