“I accept responsibility for my irresponsible and selfish conduct. There is no excuse for my actions and I accept responsibility….”
If I’ve read it once, I’ve read it a thousand times. And if I’m recognising it, as a traffic lawyer who reads tens of references and apology letters a week – you can bet your bottom dollar the magistrate who hears your matter and hundreds like it every week recognises that opening template line too.
When are references and apology letters used?
Reference and apology letters are used in court matters when you have plead guilty, been found guilty or are appealing a licence suspension.
In the local court, once the matter has been introduced, your lawyer will give the magistrates a bundle of documents. The magistrate will read these documents and the police facts sheet etc., before they even hear from your lawyer.
The magistrate will begin to form a view of you and your circumstances before your lawyer even gets to say a word about you based on these documents. It is for this reason that good references and a good apology letter can be crucial to getting a good outcome.
The point of references and apology letters:
It might not seem like it, but these documents really do have a point. We’re not asking you to prepare them as punishment or entertainment, it’s because these documents tell the magistrate a lot about who you are as a person and what you’re like when you’re not committing criminal or traffic offences.
References and apology letters can also provide context and background about matters relevant to your offence.
Good references and apology letters can sometimes even be the difference between being convicted or avoiding a conviction.
The problem with templates.
Copying a template, adding a few basic sentences and signing your name at the bottom is pointless, inauthentic and boring.
It tells a magistrate nothing at all about you as a person. It can also look to the magistrate that you are not taking court seriously enough to put in any effort.
When a magistrate reads that you’re sorry for your reckless and irresponsible conduct in an opening paragraph they are destined to stop reading and ignore everything else. I know I would if I could.
Tips from the experts:
Aside from always taking your lawyers advice, and speaking genuinely from the heart a good reference or apology letter will:
- Be short, genuine and to the point;
- Be addressed correctly, dated and signed;
- Seek to connect with the magistrate reading the letter;
- Outline that you now understand why and what you did was wrong;
- Provide context or background, rather than excuses;
- Touch on what you’ve learned as a result of your preparation and the court proceedings.
A reference or apology letter should not:
- Offer any excuses;
- Blame the police or prosecuting authority;
- Minimise the seriousness of the offence;
- Make suggestions about what the punishment should be;
- Request the court show leniency;
- Make submissions or outline every issue you’d like your lawyer to put to the court in submissions.
What to do if you’ve got a court date:
If you’ve got a matter coming up at court you should speak to an expert criminal and traffic defence lawyer before it’s too late.
It is very important to get individual and tailored advice about what could help you at court.