The Youth Criminal Justice Act applies to youth who are between the ages of 12 and 17 who are alleged to have committed a criminal offence, and those who are charged for an offence that they did before they turned 18 years old.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act provides additional protections, additional rights, and access to special services that adults (18 and older) are not entitled to. For example, if a youth is charged with a crime and between the ages of 12 to 17, they may be able to get a free legal aid lawyer. Any measures to deal with crimes committed by youth should be meaningful to the youth, encourage repair of the harm to the victims and the community, and be responsive to any circumstances or needs of youth with special requirements. The measures must also be fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
Principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act
- Young people are more vulnerable than adults and need more protection;
- Young people are still to be held responsible for their actions, but in different ways than adults as they are not fully matured;
- Young people's privacy deserves more protection than adults;
- Rehabilitation is important for youth to ensure they grow into positive members of society;
- Parents should be involved in helping their children; and,
- Jail is a last resort for young people and judges ought to consider other options first.
Youth Legal Rights
Youth who are accused of a crime have the same rights as adults accused of crime, plus some additional rights provided for in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Rights provided to both youth and adults are granted under the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Rights provided to just youth are granted under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Rights specific to youth include:
- The involvement of a supportive adult, including parents;
- The right to a free lawyer in certain situations, such as during bail hearings, trials, and sentence reviews;
- Special privacy rules, such as the identity in court, who can access the youth record, and whether the information contained in the youth record can be shared; and,
- Jail is allowed, but only as a last resort.
In situations where a youth is put into custody, a youth worker will speak with them and help make a plan to re-integrate into the community. Youth can be granted leaves for re-integration into the community, medical, compassionate, and humanitarian reasons, along with special medical appointments and attending a family member's funeral.
There are specific factors that the judge must consider when sentencing, such as the protection of the society, rehabilitation of the offender, general and specific deterrence, and denunciation.
Additionally, there are sentencing principles specific to youth that the judge must follow.
- The sentence for a youth must be lower than the adult sentence for a similar crime;
- The judge must determine if a sentence that does not include time in custody is sufficient;
- The sentence should make the offender feel responsible for their actions;
- The sentence should address any issues that caused the offender to commit the crime;
- The sentence should help the offender become a positive member of society;
- The sentence must be similar to sentences for other youth who committed similar cimes in the area; and,
- The sentence can encourage no further criminal activity.
There are many sentencing options for a judge to consider and jail time is used as a last resort. The Crown can ask for a jail sentence if the crime is serious, violent, or if the offender has a history of non-compliance with non-custodial sentences.
Youth Court Records
Unlike the adult criminal system, a youth is not "convicted" and they do not receive a "criminal record", rather they are "found guilty" and receive a "youth court record". A youth court record is a document that contains information about what occurred between the offender and the police, or the offender and the court. A youth court record can exist if a youth was spoken to by the police that did not result in a charge.
Youth court records are closed after two years if no additional offences are committed during this time period. If any further offences are committed, the two year time limit will reset and the record will remain open.
A youth court record can become attached to an adult record if a further offence is commited after the 18th birthday and within the access period for the youth crime. In these situations, the youth record will be subject to adult record provisions. Additionally, the record will be treated as an adult record in the rare situation where a youth is sentenced as an adult.
Once the record is closed, it can be destroyed or stored. Records that are stored can be used for research and statistical purposes, but the youth cannot be identified.