30 October

Accountability and the Youth Criminal Justice Act

By: Ronald Chu

The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is the law that governs the prosecution of youths for criminal offences. It applies to people who are at least 12 but not older than 18 years old at the time of the alleged offence. This law recognizes that the youth criminal justice system must be separate from the adult system because young people are not at the same level of maturity as adults. As a result, the YCJA provides that young persons should be held accountable in ways that consider their reduced level of maturity. In this blog post, I will explore the unique ways of dealing with young persons as set out in the YCJA, including the use of extrajudicial measures, extrajudicial sanctions, and sentencing outcomes available to young offenders only.

The YCJA requires the police to consider the use of measures called extrajudicial measures before laying charges on the young person.  When extrajudicial measures are used, the goal is to hold the young person accountable without the need to go through the formal court process. Some examples of these measures include informal warnings, formal police cautions, and referrals to community programs that might help prevent the youth from committing offences.

Where extrajudicial measures are not used and instead the young person is charged with a criminal offence, youth can be held accountable through the use of extrajudicial sanctions. Some examples of these sanctions include community service work, attending counseling, and writing letters of apology. If a young person successfully complies with the extrajudicial sanction, Crown prosecutors will often ask the court to withdraw the charges outright or after the young person enters into a peacebond. If a peacebond is imposed, the young person will be ordered to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a certain period of time. He or she may also be ordered to follow other conditions that the court finds appropriate.

Extrajudicial sanctions and peacebonds can have potential legal consequences. For example, if the young person fails to comply with an extrajudicial sanction, the case may continue in court.  Moreover, the fact that a young person has undergone extrajudicial sanctions may be used as evidence against them at sentencing for a subsequent offence. If the young person breaches any condition of the peacebond, they may be charged for breaching a court order.  As such, it is important to consult a criminal lawyer who is familiar with the YCJA before consenting to an extrajudicial sanctions and/or a peacebond.

If extrajudicial sanctions are not available to the young person, he or she will have to decide whether to resolve the matter in other ways or to proceed to trial.  If the young person is found guilty, a youth court judge will have to impose a sentence. The YCJA presents various sentencing options that are available only to offenders who are prosecuted under the Act. These include:

  • Judicial reprimands, which occur when the young offender is given a strict warning from the judge. Courts may exercise judicial reprimands in minor cases whereby the experience of undergoing the court process is enough to hold the young person accountable for their offending behavior.
  • Attendance orders, which compel the young person to attend certain programs, such as counseling, as set out by the judge. It is often fashioned in a manner that takes into account the specific circumstances of the offender. For example, the young person may be required to attend anger management at specific times when the youth seems to be unsupervised and has a tendency to break the law.
  • Intensive support and supervision orders, which are similar to probation orders. However, it is more often imposed for young offenders have been diagnosed with a mental health or developmental issues. It is usually stricter in that it provides closer monitoring and more rigorous community supports to address the youth’s developmental and or mental health concerns.
  • Deferred custody and supervision orders, which permit a young offender to serve their time in the community under specific conditions instead of in a residential facility. Some conditions may include house arrest or a curfew. If the young person violates any condition of this order, they risk being ordered to serve the remainder of their sentence as a regular custody and supervision order.
  • Custody and supervision orders, which require that the young offender serve their time in a residential facility. Following that period of custody, the young offender will be placed under a period of community supervision.
  • Intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision orders, which are used only for serious violent offenders who suffer from a mental or psychological disorder or emotional disturbance. It involves a period of custody within a residential facility that includes an individualized treatment plan. This is then followed by a supervision order.

As you can see, the Youth Criminal Justice Act provides unique ways of dealing with young persons who are charged or found guilty of criminal offences. A criminal defence lawyer who is experienced with the YCJA can help determine what outcomes are in the interest of the young person and can also advocate for the desired result. All of the lawyers at Edward H. Royle & Partners LLP are trained to competently represent defendants in youth court.


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